Video game players will have plenty of reasons to celebrate in 2016: not just because of what’s coming, but also for the games they already know and love. The coming year will be riddled with notable anniversaries of great and influential games.
No matter what era you remember most fondly, there will be “birthdays” of games worth celebrating. Of course, these milestones also serve as a reminder of just how long it’s been since you first fell in love with that classic game the formative year when you played it.
Though there are simply too many to name, here are some of the most important, influential anniversaries coming up that will likely make you feel wistful, then scratch your head and wonder, “where did all the time go?”
Gears of War (10th Anniversary)
Release Date: November 6, 2006
Console: Xbox 360
Gears of War was the best-looking video game in the world when it was released almost ten years ago. After a rough first year for the Xbox 360, the game’s morbid, beautiful apocalypse conjured an incredibly detailed world that might have even justified the hassle of the console’s “red ring of death.”
With astounding visuals came interesting new features: Gears didn’t invent snap-to cover, but it’s definitely the game that turned so many developers toward using the mechanic. It did, however, invent “active reloading,” which also found its way into plenty of games that followed it.
Better yet, how many game developers out there remember the days before working with Unreal Engine 3? Gears of War was the first game built in developer Epic Games’ engine, which would eventually become the de facto standard for making Xbox 360 and PS3 games.
Grand Theft Auto III (15th Anniversary)
Release Date: October 22, 2001
Console: PlayStation 2
While there were “open-world” games prior to 2001, none of had the homey, lived-in feeling of Grand Theft Auto III‘s Liberty City. Releasing a game without a fast-travel system seems like a crime in 2015, but at the time so many players were enthralled by the simple act of driving around neighborhoods looking for secret packages and rare rides.
More importantly, no game had ever inspired the sort of creative psychosis the game seemed to tease out of every man, woman and child who picked up a controller. Those minute, hours, days of running and chasing a five-star wanted rating helped a generation of players discover that breaking video games could be just as fun as beating them.
Resident Evil (20th Anniversary)
Release Date: March 30, 1996
It’s hard to believe that we didn’t always know video games could be scary. Sure, bloody games like Mortal Kombat and spooky aesthetic could freak children out, but there weren’t games actively trying to raise your heart rate.
Though plenty of games have moved on from the series’ self-declared “survival horror” gameplay style, Resident Evil will always be the game that first showed us that making players powerless can just as affecting as making them feel like gods.
Meanwhile, after seven numbered chapters and more than a dozen games in its expanded universe, the scariest thing about the franchise may be that it just keeps going.
Crash Bandicoot (20th Anniversary)
Release Date: September 9, 1996
Do you remember when game consoles were supposed to have a mascot? Since Nintendo had Mario and Sega had Sonic, some companies entering the video game hardware business in the ‘90s and 2000’s did their best to encapsulate their experience in a single character. The 3DO had Gex, the Gecko with an attitude. Microsoft, in its way, rallied around Halo’s Master Chief. Of the post-Nintendo/Sega mascots, the Sony PlayStation’s Crash Bandicoot came the closest to winning the representation for the brand.
In 1996, Crash Bandicoot split the difference between traditional side-scrolling platformers and the free-form 3D platforming of Super Mario 64, which would be released in the U.S. just a few weeks later. The jean-short-and-sneaker-clad anthropomorphic Bandicoot —an Australian marsupial— was friendly and iconic in the same way that Mario and Sonic were, while also representing the new type of video game the PlayStation offered.
It’s hard to believe that 20 years later, Crash’s developer Naughty Dog, has moved on to making the emotionally brutal The Last of Us. They also make Uncharted, which… actually makes a lot of sense.
The Nintendo 64 (20th Anniversary)
Release Date: September 29, 1996
According to the Pew Research Center, almost half of American adults play video games. Before free-to-play games on PC and smartphones helped making video games a mainstream pastime, there was a point —or more likely a series of points— where the public stopped seeing the video game as a fancy children’s toy and treated it as something more.
While other consoles of the era would help the game console to transition from toy to technology in the public eye, the accessibility of the Nintendo 64 would make the console extended the medium’s age range and overall mindshare. Games like Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64, which were both released in 1996, helped Nintendo 64 become console gamers “grew up” with.
Sonic the Hedgehog (25th Anniversary)
Release Date: October 25, 1991
Console: Sega Genesis
“Genesis does what Ninten-don’t.” In the U.S., everything about the Genesis was designed to explicitly undermine Nintendo, including Sonic the Hedgehog, the console mascot “with attitude.” Sonic lagged behind the release of the Genesis by a couple of years, but the blue blur would come to be the face of the brand after Sega started packing a copy of the game in with every console.
Though he would represent one of video gaming’s most historically significant companies for generations, in the original game Sonic made his mark by tapping his foot when you put the controller down for too long. At the time, it made him seem more alive than any character that had come before him.
The Legend of Zelda (30th Anniversary)
Release Date: February 21, 1986
Console: The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
In the time before the internet, before Gamefaqs.com and flame wars over spoilers, players had to work hard to figure out to find out what the hell was going on in The Legend of Zelda. With no map and no directions beyond “save the princess,” kids had to meet after class and share tell tall tales of their own adventures in Hyrule to figure out how to make their way. Looking back, Mario may be the first name in the history of console gaming, but Zelda was the game that showed players that there was more to the form than moving left-to-right.
Though the Legend of Zelda series has evolved over time, we still laud games such as Fez and the Dark Souls franchise —any action game that doesn’t give you a map, really— for taking cues from the original. As far as video games have come as a medium, few games have cultivated that blend of mystery and adventure.
Fun Fact: In addition to the original, 2016 will see notable anniversaries for many of Link’s notable adventures: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Gamecube/Wii) turns 10 on November 19 and The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (SNES) turns 25 on November 21.
Metroid (30th Anniversary)
Release Date: August 6, 1986
Console: The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
The original Metroid has taught us so much about making video games. Chances are, if you list your top 10 favorite games, at least one of them wouldn’t have been possible without it. So many of the mechanics developers still use to steer players through non-linear games, such as “gear-gating” and “backtracking” were popularized by Samus Aran’s original quest.
After 30 years, we are still playing games just like it. Though we call them “Metroid-vania” games now, but old veteran players remember the form was truly born on the NES.
And it still has more wisdom to share; at a time when we’re still struggling with gender representation across all forms of media, a game developer technically tricked players into playing as a woman in the original Metroid, and Samus Aran still became a beloved member of the Nintendo pantheon.
Donkey Kong (35th Anniversary)
Release Date: July 9, 1981
Is it fair to say Donkey Kong is the oldest E-Sport? Or do you think people were hustling each other at Pong first?
Though the Donkey Kong arcade cabinet wasn’t designed with competitive play in mind beyond a simple leaderboard, it is well known for inspiring the kind of obsessive binge-playing that has defined “gamer” culture for generations.
By this point, most players only know Donkey Kong as a “retro” video game. Between its age and the adoption of Donkey Kong Country series, the ever-rising climb of “jumping man versus monkey” is so ubiquitous that Disney was able to turn it into a movie.
Breakout (40th Anniversary)
Release Date: April 13, 1976
Remember when breaking blocks for points was cool? When it was worth going to your local arcade or pizza parlor to play, rather than simply staving off boredom while waiting in line at Walgreens?
An Atari game created by gaming godfather Nolan Bushnell with eventual Apple co-founders Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs, Breakout’s concept has been reused, remixed and recycled so many times in the last 40 years that some players may not even think of it as its own distinct game anymore.
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