In this line of work, I'm continually reminded of how big a part games like Castlevania, Mega Man and Contra played in raising a generation of gamers. Which is funny, because I never played any of them.
Being raised in Australia, where the NES never really played as dominant a role as it did in Japan and the US, my upbringing was a little...different. Looking back, the games I played as a kid certainly shaped the gamer I am today, a deficit of tough platformers perhaps explaining why I can't stand "hard" games as an adult, and an introduction to strategy and open worlds at an early age nurturing a love for titles that let me take my time and craft my own experiences.
Here, then, are the games that made me. The ones I not only played a ton of, but that have stuck with me all these years as examples of stuff I found interesting or innovative. And none of them are called Castlevania, or have any Mega Men in them.
Indulge me while I list them, but I do it for a good reason! Everyone is different, and the games that defined our tastes are all different too, so while you're browsing, ask yourself: did any of them make you, too? And as they likely didn't, which ones did?
Note: I've drawn a line around the early 1990s, because after 1993/94 - when I was 13/14 - I think I'd gone from being an impressionable child to someone who knew what they wanted from a game. And that generally involved Star Wars.
GI Joe, Commodore 64
This was not only a great use of a license, but also a pioneering piece of game design, dropping you into a quasi-3D battlefield and leaving you to your own devices. To this day, only one other game - General Chaos, for the Genesis/Mega Drive - has given me the same sense of sandbox combat.
General Chaos, Mega Drive
It shocks me to this day why there aren't more games like this, though Fat Princess on the PS3 and PSP comes close. It's like Team Fortress, only with a battlefield on which you can't run and definitely can't hide. The co-op mode included was one of the greatest party games I've ever played, and were somebody to release a HD version of this on XBLA or the PSN, I'd snap it up in an instant.
Sid Meier's Pirates!, Commodore 64
I played the 1993 re-release Pirates! Gold more, and enjoyed the 2004 remake more than that, but since both are essentially this game with better graphics, I'll give the original the nod here. The reason Pirates! was released in 2004, and will be released on Wii in 2010, is its design was so far ahead of its time. Blending RPG elements with management, puzzles and arcade action, Pirates! was the sole reason I had a Commodore 64 well into the early 1990s.
I still don't think to this day that another Star Wars game has nailed the "feel" of the original movies as well as X-Wing did. And aside from the fact it's an amazing space shooter, I don't think it gets enough credit for helping rekindle a lot of people's interest - mine included - in Star Wars, which in 1993 was at perhaps its lowest ebb in history. Also, fun fact: I broke three joysticks playing this game.
Skitchin', Mega Drive
Stupid name, stupid game, but that "DDOOOSSSHH, SKITCHIN" intro was the standard greeting for me and my friends for years after this game had faded into obscurity. If you haven't played it, it's Road Rage, only on Rollerblades as you hang onto the back of speeding cars. It's nowhere near as cool as it sounds.
People always talk about Dune 2 as being a great, important game, but I actually spent more time playing its forgotten predecessor. Combining strategy with classic adventure game stylings (another hybrid game, there's a pattern here), it also does a better job than the movie its loosely based on of adhering to Frank Herbert's original vision for the Dune story.
Wing Commander 2, PC
You ever see Battlestar Galactica? The new one? Nearly every episode I couldn't help but think "man, I bet these guys played a lot of Wing Commander when they were younger".
Warlords II, PC
That intro music haunts me in my dreams. And aside from Advance Wars I don't think I've ever played a "simple" strategy game that's at the same time so engrossing.
Super Baseball 2020, Mega Drive
I don't normally like Baseball, but the crazy shit they included in this game was enough to convert me, making this one of my multiplayer staples as a child (though sadly I had the Mega Drive port, not the Neo Geo original). More games need to take a sport and add some Mario Kart elements. Plus, bonus points for it actually containing a team called the "Aussie Battlers".
The Last Ninja, C64
Isometric combat and gorgeous level designs made this a great game, but that music, oh, that music. Even decades on it's still amazing.
Quest For Glory II, PC
You like Oblivion? This did much of the same thing, from the levelling to the exploration to the real-time events, only it came out in 1990 and taught me the meaning of the word "apothecary" long before I'd have otherwise encountered it.
So, that about does it! I could go on all day, adding more games like Frontier Elite II, Syndicate, TV Sports Football, Magic Carpet, Aztec Challenge, UFO: Enemy Unknown, Monkey Island, Police Quest, Commander Keen, Mean Streets, Civilization...but that's enough about me.
What about you? What games raised you, and turned you into the gamer you are today?