Video games are always moving forward in the general sense of the word, like VR games, but some games break new ground quicker than others. Here are five games that may or may not have achieved widespread popularity in their day, but either way, they laid the groundwork for things to come.
1. Phantasy Star Online
Console games connecting to the Internet is nothing new in this day and age, but it was a virtually unheard of in 2000, when Phantasy Star Online debuted on the Dreamcast. Back in those prehistoric days, cave men and women would plug their console into a telephone outlet to connect via dial-up. This allowed them to join the online lobby of Phantasy Star Online, where they could chat with other adventurers to go on hacking and slashing missions together.
While the online capabilities wouldn’t be all that thrilling to modern audiences, this game set the stage for nearly all online console games to come, from Halo 2 to Destiny. Next time you hop online on PlayStation 4, you can thank Phantasy Star Online for venturing into the space before just about anyone else.
2. Body Harvest
In 2001, Grand Theft Auto 3 started a wave of open-world video games that still hasn’t subsided. But GTA owes a lot to a lesser-known Nintendo 64 game called Body Harvest that launched in 1998.
This title introduced many of the core mechanics that GTA 3 would go on to popularize, including the ability to hijack any vehicle you find and causing mayhem in an unsuspecting digital world. The game doesn’t look like much by modern standards, but we might not have modern sandbox-style games without it.
3. Super Mario 64
In 1996, no one was really sure how to take the popular side-scrolling platformer genre and expand it into three dimensions. Leave it to Nintendo, the company that had perfected the art of the side-scroller, to take charge. A launch title for the Nintendo 64, Super Mario 64 proved not only that platformers could be viable in three dimensions, but that they could be just as good as their side-scrolling counterparts.
By modern standards, the camera control leaves something to be desired, but that’s about all there is to complain about. Everything else is just as enjoyable as previous games in the series. Super Mario 64 laid the groundwork for many 3D games to come.
If one thing can be said about Shenmue, it’s that it was ahead of its time. Launching on Dreamcast in 2000, it was one of the first big open-world games ever made. More than any other game before it, Shenmue was dedicated to the task of recreating the real world inside a video game. It had a day and night cycle, weather effects, and non-playable characters who lived their lives regardless of what you did in the game. Seriously, you can follow anyone around and watch how they spend their time. In fact, Shenmue is filled with more detail than many modern open-world games offer.
5. Virtual Boy
While it’s not exactly a video game, this nearly forgotten console was definitely ahead of its time. Nintendo’s short-lived Virtual Boy offered offered 3D graphics and a rudimentary VR experience. It came out in 1995, but didn’t even last a year on the market before Nintendo gave up on it.
The problem? The games looked like garbage. Thanks to its clunky tripod-based design, the thing was a literal pain in the neck to use. And with its limited color palette, the games hardly looked better than Game Boy games that had debuted a decade prior. All told, only 22 games were released for the Virtual Boy before Nintendo moved on to other things.
But considering that a slew of VR headsets are hitting the market this year, from Oculus Rift to PlayStation VR, the Virtual Boy may just have been ahead of its time. If only Nintendo had waited for the technology to catch up to its ambitions.