Last Updated on January 21, 2024
John Bowe looks at some of the best games of 1997, including some of the top titles of the 90s.
1996 had been the best of gaming times and regardless of whichever manufacturer you favoured, everyone was having the best of it. The players most of all. Mario 64, Virtua Fighter 3, Quake and a whole horizon filled with sudden modern classics that you might personally pick before the games above.
It was tough for anyone to afford them all; in fact it, was impossible, especially for me as I remained in schooling until the summer of that year; but once I left and started working forty-plus hour weeks for my local stable yard, and let me tell you, with the sort of wages that I could draw from my pocket, I was looking at, maybe, being able to buy a game a month.
I was out of control but then I needed to be because as 1996 came to an end, another year was coming and all the print media was promising it was going to be even better.
But was it? Well, I bought at least twelve games in 1997. And a new Nintendo home console; my first proper machine from them, and where we shall begin.
1997 games everyone wanted
Nintendo had a lot to prove in 1997. And they had to first actually release the console they’d been promising to Europe for years at that point. Then, and just as crucially, they had to also manage a steady stream of games to play on it, something they’d appeared to be shy about in Japan and America already. Curious, but no matter because they were bringing the world’s new favourite game with them. And some other ones. Definitely.
That was good enough for me to buy one. But what was this machine I had? Mario was either acting drunk (Mario 64) or leaving skid marks that just weren’t as skiddy as they used to be (Mario Kart 64). Sure, the graphics on every game looked skiddy, but I felt that was more a by-product of the machine than a steady hand of intent. Having waited so long for this machine I quickly felt it was more like an interactive art installation than a games console. I’d sell mine before the year was out. Of course, I’d buy another one before the next year was out, but that is for another year in review.
Sega’s 1997 wasn’t what you would call classic either. I’d loved my Saturn the previous year. A steady rollout of exclusive games that had hoovered my horse money. An enviable machine that was the envy of absolutely no one. That reality really came to the fore with the 1997 games roster.
Sega had fired some heavy rounds just a year earlier, but now they were scratching about their pockets for any remaining arcade artillery that might be converted, only to then farm those jobs out to second-tier developers like Tantalus who brought over the smash-hit Manx TT in less than favourable fashion.
Much more exciting was going to be the conversion of Sega’s own Model 3-powered, ultra-heavyweight behemoth, Virtua Fighter 3. Yes, it was supposed to be coming according to Sega, however hilarious or painful the thought of it. It might even use the Saturn’s cartridge facility for some extra poly-steroids. It didn’t ever come to light, but the cartridge hole did itself come to life in some rude fashion this year.
SNK had already created a 1MB cart for a number of their 2-D titans, and it had worked, but this year Capcom took that slot and ripped it a new one to bring over their own data-intensive 2-D mix up, X-Men vs Street Fighter. Big sprites and big animation. It would remain a Japanese import only release, and that was really the big story of the machine this year. Either upgrade to play those games, and they were worth it, or go on with Sony.
PC gaming gets out of the nursery
Sega knew how to treat their fans. And speaking of fans, the PC crowd were really rattling at the railings this year.
How to describe the home shopper, personal computer year of 1997? I think less than ten words should be ample;
Power VR, 3-Dfx, loose wallets, moist kecks.
I think that covers the high and low ground of the market at the time. PCs don’t look to me to defend or define them, then or now. I will throw a dog a bone and say that from memory I can state that by this point my PC-fanatic brother was becoming extensive in his interests in overclocking. I also learnt that year that overclocking is a trade term for blowing things up and leaving the various remains all over the bedroom space which we shared.
So far it has been games and the machines that play them, but what about gaming culture? 1996 saw all kinds of shifts going on with that; Quake made sweet with the internet, and analogue controllers arrived for Nintendo and Sega fans. And Sony? They were still busy making the modern landscape that pervades today.
Nintendo vs. Sega vs. Sony
Back in 1997 though, the gulf between the culture they had created and their console rivals was becoming so wide that even the arriving battle for second place between Nintendo and Sega was for a distant second. And one event in the culture of that year displayed it for all to see.
E3. That old chestnut. From back when it was exotic and exciting. It was always an event in the monthlies back then and you could just see from what Sony was displaying that it wasn’t going to matter what anyone had, because Sony had the biggest brand reliability and the broadest reach of displays.
They had Tomb Raider II. They had Final Fantasy VII. They had Time Crisis. They had Oddworld. They had that new 3-D Street Fighter. They had Resident Evil 2. They had Crash Bandicoot 2. They had Formula 1 ‘97, Colony Wars, Command and Conquer Red Alert, that new Castlevania and even an early concept video of Metal Gear Solid.
They had everyone’s attention. And that roll is by no means comprehensive. But Sony were and at E3 that year they captured the spirit of the now through the trade show message of tomorrow. To be honest it pinched at the time; I was all in on the spirit of Sega, and they did have a showing themselves, but the loss of Tomb Raider II was the sort of blow that told you where things had gone. Panzer Dragoon Saga wasn’t going to change that any more than Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was going to on the N64.
You had to respect it.
On the whole though, 1997 games offered strength in depth, a stylish collection that didn’t actually add anything amazing to the industry. It wasn’t playing a B-game by any means, it just happened to come after the absolute definition of things that was the year before. The next year along would be a little more exciting, and we may get to that at some point, should I be allotted the indulgence.
My 1997 game of the year is in three parts; one part Final Fantasy VII, one part Goldeneye 007 and one part Dead or Alive on Saturn import. That’s a strong mix, but then it was a good year.
John is a writer and gardener. He comes with various 90’s Sega attachments and is the author of The Meifod Claw and other works. His favorite tree is a copper beech and he would like his coffee black without sugar, thank you.