The Best Video Games of 1996! Our Picks Of the Top Titles
A massive number of classics were released in 1996 across a wide variety of platforms, and in this article, we are going to talk about some of our favorites from 1996.
And yes, we might miss some of your favorites because picking 10-12 games out of so many good ones was literally a Sophie’s choice.
Without further ado, here are the best video games from 1996 (in no particular order)
Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 was one of the flagship titles for the Nintendo 64, and it is a brilliant showcase forboth the power of the console, and the creative brilliance of Shigeru Miyamoto and the development team. This is virtually a perfect platform title. The graphics are brilliant, the gameplay is silky-smooth, and the sheer sense of joy you feel while playing this game is incomparable.
Making the jump from 2D to 3D for one of gaming’s most iconic franchises was a huge leap, and Super Mario 64 absolutely nails it. It has everything you would expect from a 3D version of Mario – a bigger world filled with lots of secrets, way more freedom of movement through the environment, more gameplay options and a super-tight control scheme. If you’re a gaming fan, you need to play this game. Now.
Super Mario RPG
I know what you’re thinking – 2 games from the same franchise on a best-of list in the same year? YES. That’s how good Super Mario RPG is. Also called “Legend of the Seven Stars”, this game is a classic adventure through the Mushroom Kingdom.
The game has deep and satisfying combat, a ton of hilarious mini-games, playful humor, memorable characters and fantastic graphics. It’s a great RPG game, a great Mario game, and a great game in general. Read more about this game and other great 90s Mario Bros Games.
Command and Conquer: Red Alert
Command & Conquer is one of the franchises that helped establish the RTS genre and was one of its shining examples during its heyday. Red Alert is a fantastic strategy game that puts players into an immersive universe with an alternative history plot. Einstein has figured out how to travel back in time and assassinates Hitler before he became the feared dictator we know him as. But as you would expect, things rarely pan out as you want them to.
Due to the time-travel shenanigans, Nazi Germany never became a thing, but the Soviet Red Menace does. Red Alert puts players into the shoes of the Allied and Soviet factions, each of whom have distinct unit types and strategies for domination. The tactical gameplay is beautifully complemented with live-action cinematic in a B-movie style that would become a staple of the series.
Resident Evil is a shining, gore-and-splatter-soaked testament to what the survival horror genreis capable of. It’s incredibly violent, incredibly tense and offers players one of the best thrill rides put on gaming screens. You play an elite cop who’s investigating a number of creepy, paranormal occurrences in a dilapidated old mansion.
Predictably, things go horribly, horribly wrong quickly. The gameplay is challenging – you’ll often find yourself sandwiched in a narrow corridor with nowhere to go and a horde of bloodthirsty beings closing in upon you.
The graphics are truly spectacular, and the grotesque creatures you’ll come up against will send shivers down your spine and stay etched in your memory long after you’ve dispatched them to the hell they came from. If shooting the body parts off mutant monsters and other grisly abominations sounds like your idea of a good time, check out Resident Evil. This game made our list of the Top Horror games from the 90s.
Killer Instinct 2 / Killer Instinct Gold
Killer Instinct 2 was a breath of fresh air in the fighting game market. Which was released in the arcades in early 1996, but by the end of the year it was released on the Nintendo 64 as Killer Instinct Gold. It was a breath of fresh air, I mean, it was a spine-shattering, limb-smashing, combo-monster that took players all over the world by storm.
Building on the already stellar fighting mechanics of the first game, Killer Instinct 2 delivered better graphics, a more refined combat system (this was the first game in the series featuring the Super Meter) and a few new characters. Throws, which is now a staple of all fighting games, were also first introduced in Killer Instinct 2. This was one of the perfect games to play with your friends, strapping yourself to your couch and smashing each other in the face until you went back for one more match, over and over again.
Quake is a franchise that needs no introduction. Developers ID Software literally created the first-person shooter franchise with Doom, and with Quake, they created another genre within it – the arena shooter. Quake was a glorious romp through spectacular levels, featuring many of the weapons that have become legendary in FPS circles – the rail gun, the plasma gun, the lightning gun and others.
Success in Quake depended on player skill above all. Enemies were mobile, and you needed to have precise aiming to get through the hordes of enemies you’ll come up against. The animations and graphics are top-notch, and the balanced gameplay made sure that this was an absolute rage with the multiplayer community and with action gaming fans in general. The deathmatch maps were sheer chaos, and even to this day, more than two decades later, Quake is still as fun as it was when it came out. Do yourself a favor and play this game – it is a piece of history.
If Quake blasted the arena shooter into popular consciousness, Diablo did the same for the top-down, hack-and-slash RPG. Created by the brilliant minds at Blizzard, Diablo was a culmination of everything great about the action RPG. It had a brilliant story, steeped in lore, and led players through an epic journey through a fantastical land. Players could pick from several classes of characters, each of which had a skill tree and certain unique abilities and weapons they could wield.
The skill system was complex, and the combat was truly exhilarating and balanced. Diablo took players through dungeon after dungeon of memorable enemies, lurking in unexpected locations. The boss fights in Diablo were spectacular and needed a thorough understanding of the abilities and limitations of your character class to overcome.
While Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter nights have their own place in the RPG pantheon, Diablo is unquestionably the game that spearheaded the rise of the genre.
Tekken 2 is a marked improvement over the original, which was already a stellar fighting game on its own. This game features a pace of combat that is entirely its own, and is backed by a massive roster of 25 memorable characters you can play as. Tekken 2 nearly doubled the amount of moves that you can pull off and improved the graphics to a point that took the combat goodness to the next level.
This is one of those games that’s easy to pick up and play (button mashing, anyone?) but is notoriously difficult to master. Unsurprisingly, Tekken 2 was a huge hit and to this day remains a solid fighting game that offers hours of entertainment to players who want to step into the fighting pits and test their mettle. This is such a great title, and it made our Top 10 Best PS1 Fighting Games
The Civilization series of games basically created the 4x strategy genre. Although sporadic elements of the concept might have been introduced in other games, Civilization was really the title that brought together a massive number of complex gameplay mechanics and put it into an engrossing, deeply satisfying strategy experience.
Civilization II improved upon the promise of the original, letting players take control of a nascent civilization in the Stone Age and guiding it all the way through history into technological greatness. Along the way, you will have to make several strategic decisions vis-à-vis expansion, alliances, politics, economics and everything else. This is a truly monumental game, and one of the few gaming titles that consistently offers hundreds and even thousands of hours of entertainment to players who are looking for a deep strategy game.
Duke Nukem 3D
The Duke is one of the most legendary characters in all of video gaming, and for a good reason. He’s a one-liner spouting, gun-toting, muscular manly man who woos women and kicks ass with an unmatched panache.
Duke Nukem 3D gave players a chance to blast away foes in a beautiful setting, and it was one of the pinnacles of graphical achievement when it first launched. The first-person perspective and the gleefully powerful and inventive range of guns like the Shrinker and the Ripper machine gun make this an absolute joy to play through.
If you’re a fan of first-person shooters, do yourself a favor and experience the awesomeness that is Duke Nukem 3D. As The Duke would say, “Do you wanna dance?”
That does it for our look back at 1996, one of the best years in video gaming.
What did you think of our list? Did your favorites make it on here? Are there some gems from 1996 that we should probably be playing ourselves? Let us know in the comments…