While they’re more important than the game’s cover, graphics are not the most important part of a game. However, a strong and distinct visual style can enhance a game, and if developers manage to create the kind of graphics that are generational, it can keep people playing their games well after it should’ve passed its expiration date. I’ve been playing video games for… a long time now, and some of them had a look that just really stuck in my brain. And so, here they are — the games whose graphics defined a generation. (I didn’t include a ton of NES or ATARI era, since essentially everything was mind blowing at the dawn of video gaming.)
Toy Story (Genesis/SNES)
Toy Story‘s selling point was its graphics, and look, they were VERY good at the time. Its creators essentially got the previous generation of consoles to look like really crappy versions of PS1 or Saturn games. The graphics were so good that the ads were mostly just “Hey, look how good this game looks, maybe ignore the fact that it’s not great.”
LA Noire (PS3/XBOX 360/PC)
I still haven’t seen any other game with facial animation this good, which is probably explained by the fact that no other game has needed facial animation this good. LA Noire is the only game where reading characters’ faces is an important part of solving cases. Team Bondi dumped a TON of work into motion capturing real faces, so there’s a good chance we won’t see facial animation this advanced again for a long time.
Quake‘s graphics probably look the least advanced/unique of all the games on this list, but trust me — Quake blew our MINDS! The game was so dark and violent, and all the monsters were rendered in 3D so that when you walked around them YOU SAW ALL OF THEM! Not this weird 2D “Each monster only has four angles upon which they can be viewed” thing.
Indie developers have taken the torch of creating singularly unique looking games, and Journey is still one of the best ever. It’s incredibly fluid and haunting-looking. Journey just wouldn’t be journey without its visuals.
Viewtiful Joe (Gamecube)
Viewtiful Joe was one of the silliest, fastest-paced action games I’ve ever played, and it needed the kind of graphics that could keep up. It nailed its comic book aesthetic perfectly, and somehow even with all of the crazy garbage going on onscreen, it never seemed to be struggling (unless it did, I dunno, I played this game like a decade ago).
The Neverhood (PC)
I really like claymation. I don’t know what to tell you.
The cell shading that looks like wide brush strokes, combined with the distinct and specific art style ended up making Okami a game that STILL looks fantastic.
Donkey Kong Country (SNES)
Guys, I cannot express to you how incredible we all thought Donkey Kong Country looked when it came out. And while it probably feels simple now, it still looks… right, y’know? That’s probably one of the reasons that it’s so good — yes, the graphics are VERY dated by today’s standards, but they still hold a unique appeal (despite the fact that they’re clearly over a decade old).
Final Fantasy VII (PS1)
It’s pretty wild that the graphics for this game were blown out of the water by its own sequel only a couple of years later, because Final Fantasy VII blew our minds when it came out. It helped make JRPGs popular by finally giving them a massive graphics upgrade. Not only that, but its FMV cut scenes were like, a really big deal. People were DEVASTATED by the one that closed out the first CD (the game was three CDs, which was huge), and now ever character honestly looks like a puppet. Final Fantasy VII has aged maybe the worst of all the games on this list, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t still shred all of our brains when it came out.
Super Mario 64 (N64)
Platformers had tried to go 3D before Super Mario 64, but once it came out, it was clear that none of them had truly succeeded. Super Mario 64 smashed everyone’s incredibly high expectations so unbelievably hard, and its graphics were a big part of that. Huge worlds, varied enemies, and even the plumber himself were rendered perfectly. Super Mario 64 still looks very fun, since its simple colors pop well enough that you don’t mind how bland a lot of the textures are. Man, what a great game.
What games do you think defined a generation of visuals? Let us know on Twitter @Smosh!