Pokemon Red Cartridge Nintendo Gameboy

CLASSIC GAMING ICONS FROM THE 80S AND 90S 

By freelance writer Jane Duncan

September 7 2020

Netflix’s latest gaming documentary High Score does a lot to bring the gaming achievements of the 80s and 90s into the limelight. Rightfully so, given that these decades saw the introduction of home entertainment systems like the Atari, Commodore 64 and ZX Spectrum, not to mention the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System). These computer systems fundamentally changed the landscape of the living room for millions of households all over the world. Many, if not all, of the game developers working today were raised on these machines and their influence still shapes the video games we play now. It’s DNA can be felt in many of the new releases. Here are some of the top gaming icons to come out of the 80s and 90s.

Pokémon Red and Blue

Created by Satoshi Tajiri in 1995, the world of Pokémon is still a major obsession today for many kids and adults alike, spawning a life of it’s own well outside the initial 2D explorer. Putting the player in charge of finding and collecting an enormous variety of chimeric creatures, Tajiri was inspired by his time collecting insects as a child. Players then train and battle their Pokémon with other trainers as they explore the in-game world, originally based on the Kantō region of Japan.

Pokémon set the bar for the collectible game, encouraging cooperation just as much as competition. First released with Red and Blue versions, players trying to collect all of the available Pokémon would have to trade with friends who had the other version of the game, as neither version contained the total set. A strategy still being employed in the latest versions. This idea of working with your friends outside the game was virtually unheard of at the time and proved to be a compelling selling point. Nothing came close to that feeling of finally collecting all 151 Pokémon and maxing out your Pokédex. A point which has helped the Pokémon franchise endure and thrive in the 25 years since.

The Legend of Zelda

Developed and published for Nintendo by Shigeru Miyamoto and Takashi Tezuka, 1986’s The Legend of Zelda was an action adventure RPG like no other. Placing the player in charge of a small elfin hero named Link, the goal was to unite the pieces of the Tri-force of Wisdom (an artifact left by the creator goddess of the region) and thereby save Hyrule from Ganon, who seeks to dominate it. The top-down adventure game sees you exploring various dungeons and castles, collecting upgrades and equipment along the way in order to help you better face the challenges Ganon puts in your path.

Tezuka, the script and story writer for the game, drew his ideas from European Medieval conflicts and Western Fantasy and its influence can be felt throughout. From the unique environments to the ambient music, The Legend of Zelda was among the first of its kind to generate a truly immersive fantasy experience for the player. The fact that it was non-linear also meant that you had a greater amount of choice in how you were going to approach the game. As a player you felt you were really carving your own path through the story. 

Pac-Man

No iconic gaming reminiscence would be complete without a nod to Pac-Man. Created by Toru Iwatani and released by Namco in 1980, Pac-Man was first conceptualized as a game that would try to appeal to both men and women, avoiding the sports or war topics that were prevalent in arcade machines at the time. As the player you navigated the titular Pac-Man through a neon maze, collecting pellets and fruit while trying to avoid the four ghosts, Blinky, Pinky, Inky, and Clyde, who would pursue you throughout.

This seemingly simple concept proved massively popular around the world. Something about the colorful minimalist game design hooked players for hours. The stylized puck shaped (or pizza) hero Pac-Man has endured as one of the 80’s quintessential gaming icons and it’s enormous commercial success has cemented him as one of the virtual legends. 

Documentaries like High Score reveal a lot about the hidden stories behind these icons, showing us how far we’ve come since their inception. While it’s true that we’ve come a long way since the days of Pokémon, Zelda, and Pac-Man, it’s worth acknowledging their contributions to the story. Perhaps it’s time to dust off our old machines and boot them up again.

Pacman - Arcade Machine

 

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