Games That Pushed The Limits – Part 1

I have been recently been fascinated by the history of the various machines that have battled for our living rooms. Each machine has had its strengths and weaknesses, and as a programmer, I’m amazed by some of the ways developers have harnessed the power of consoles and pushed them to their limits resulting is some marvelous games.

I usually try to emphasize that gameplay is more important that graphical quality. However, I thought it would be interesting to take a look at games that were the most demanding when it came to a console’s limited system resources.

Other Parts:
Part 2 & Part 3 — Part 4 is on the way
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 Solaris
I’m by no means a 2600 expert, but Solaris is definately one game that comes up quite frequently in terms of innovative 2600 games. Considering the 2600 wasn’t originally intended to do much more than play Pong variants, Solaris is a technical masterpiece with its sophisticated gameplay and relatively high resolution graphics.

Although the game played much like a first-person space shooter, you can always see your ship at the bottom of the screen. The graphics for Solaris were first-rate as the multi-colored aliens are flicker-free and glide along smoothly, even when attacking in groups.
Full Review of Solaris


 Super Mario Bros. 3
Nintendo stood behind its first two systems for a quite a while — even when the next generation of consoles had made their footprint in the market. Because of this, developers knew the NES inside and out and were able to develop some excellent games that kept up with the upcoming 16-bit titles.

Super Mario Brothers 3 led the way of pushing the seven-year-old NES technology to its limits by being worlds apart from its predecessors in terms of graphics and sound. Just about every gamer was blown away by how groundbreaking SMB3 was when it was debuted. Of course, the infamous movie, “The Wizard” gave us a preview of the beautiful, new sprites, backgrounds, and animation effects.

If you had never seen an NES before, you would think that Mario 3 was an early version of Super Mario World. The characters are alot bigger and many are more detailed than the original SMB games. In the “Giant World” levels, we get a serving of especially-large sprites — the goomba is twice the size Mario.
Full Review of Super Mario Bros. 3

 Castlevania 3
With the third installment of the NES Castlevanias, Konami packed a very large game into that small cartridge with a couple of custom mappers, which gave the NES very nice graphic effects, such as rotation and parallax faking.

The graphics are revamped and are some of the best on the NES. A very large amount of animated tiles in the backgrounds of movement stages fill the game with a haunting atmosphere. Some action stages have some surprises that add to the challenge, such as automatic scrolling, rising water, crumbling bridges, and falling towers.

Konami made the most of the graphical capabilities of the NES to provide intricate details such as stained-glass windows, moss on rocks, eerie swamp fog, ominous shadows, rotting wood, and spectacular lightning flashes. This is a definite step up from Castlevania 2 which often repeated backgrounds. The enemies and bosses look much better than they did in the previous Castlevania games (which were good to start with). The animation is one thing that is much improved, as many of characters now have more than just one or two frames.
Full Review of Castlevania 3

 Kirby’s Adventure
Kirby was another one of those games that came out for the NES as gamers were already looking forward to SNES titles. It’s a cute and fun-filled game that, like Super Mario Bros 3, looked like an early SNES game with a smaller color pallete. Kirby had an advantage on Mario 3, however, as it was the largest licensed NES cart at 6 Mbit.

Rather than make some piece of trash as the last great NES game, the makers polished it and polished it until you can almost see your face in it. The graphics stretch the 8 bit format to its absolute limit. It is the aesthetic equivalent of painting the Lord’s Prayer on a grain of rice – the beauty is that of working within the limitations.

Kirby himself is a beautiful vibrant pink, the worlds he passes through are delicious lime greens, ice blues, chocolate browns – the rich colours do not attempt to emulate 16 bit, but instead try to make 8 bit as beautiful as possible. The attention to detail incredible as Kirby’s character animations are about as good as they get on the NES.

The backgrounds’ graphics may be The biggest strength of the game. In relation to most other NES games, the backgrounds in Kirby’s Adventure are superb. There’s one level that takes place in a forest and you can see an ocean in the distance. There is also some nifty parallax scrolling in the tower stages of the game. If all that wasn’t enough, the game has smooth animation as well. Even the intros to each level were nifty. All these little elements come together to create one “dreamy” gaming experience.
Full Review of Kirby’s Adventure

Honorable Mentions:

  • Megaman 6 – One of the least favorite Megaman games, but the graphics are the best of the NES series with colorful backgrounds and foregrounds and impressive enemy design. . (Review)
  • Dragon Warrior IV -Weighing in at an entire 1 megabyte of program ROM, this RPG improved on its predessors and pushed the bounds of what an NES cartridge could hold. Correction: I’m told that the real version of the game is only 512K. Still an impressive title, however. (Review)
  • Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers – This Capcom platformer was en excellent of example of colorful sprites and great animation. A licenced game done right (Review).


 Ghouls N Ghosts
Most gamers in the 80s (including myself) were pretty much clueless about Sega’s first home system. While it did not have the developer and retail support that the NES had, it had a number of games, especially arcade ports, that were graphically superior to the NES.

Outside of the slightly downgraded graphics and sound, the Sega Master System port of Ghouls N Ghosts played almost exactly like its bigger arcade brother, which would cause even a Nintendo fanboy to be impressed. Even though it is slightly slower, the presentation is so impressive that it’s hard to believe that this was made for the Master System. Of course, it never looks as good as the 16-bit console ports, but this really proved that the system could do amazing stuff with the right people behind the project.
Full Review of Ghouls N Ghosts

 Phantasy Star
As one of the greatest exclusive SMS games, Phantasy Star was an RPG that topped any other RPG in the 8-bit generation. It was the first console RPG to be released in the United States since Nintendo had not seen fit to import either Dragon Warrior or Final Fantasy for the NES at that time.

Phantasy Star was jam-packed into a full 4 Megabit cartridge and was superior to both games in terms of both graphics and sound. It delivered fully detailed on-screen displays and character graphics (as opposed to the tile-like graphics of Nintendo’s offerings) and made full use of the Master System’s PCM synthesis chip to deliver one of the best FM-based audio experiences ever heard in an “old-school” 8-bit RPG.
Full Review of Phantasy Star

Honorable Mentions:

  • Sonic the Hedgehog Series — The SMS did not sport the Genesis’ so-called “Blast-Processing”, but did a good job keeping up with the blue blur.
  • Gunstar Heroes – If anybody can push a system to the max, it’s Treasure — this rare Genesis down-port still shined.

/
 Sapphire
If there is one thing that can get a PC-Engine fan excitied, it must be one of Hudson’s high quality shmups — most of which demonstrated effects simply unthinkable on an 8-bit machine.

Sapphire, in particular, featured a number of amazing raytracing, rotation, real-time scalling, morphing, and real-time 3D effects. Simply put, it had an avalanche of effects without a single slowdown. Giant sprites, a heavy-metal soundtrack and an outstanding playability make of Sapphire a near-perfect shmup.

Sapphire is a milestone on PC-Engine history. Its quality is comparable to some great Playstation shooters, like Raystorm. If not for the high price usually asked by sellers, Sapphire would be an obligatory acquisition for any PC-Engine collector.
Full Review of Sapphire

Honorable Mentions

  • Dracula X (aka: Castlevania X) -Some truly gruesome creatures punctuate this game, showing just what can be achieved in 2D with a limited color palette. (Review)
  • Strider – Had an expert conversion to the PC Engine thanks to the Arcade CD format. With the extra memory the Arcade Card afforded the programmers, this game was true to its arcade parent in terms of graphics and gameplay.


 Gunstar Heroes
Its nearly impossible to talk about the Genesis and technical mastery and not have Gunstar Heroes come up in the conversation. If there was one developer that knows how to push 2D consoles to their limits, it’s Treasure (the same group that brought you Contra on the NES). This run-n-gun classic has mobs of sprites that litter the screen at any one moment. The two player game features a moderate amount of slowdown, but it’s not enough to significantly detract from the game.

Every graphical element in Gunstar Heroes is impressive: from the rotating, pseudo-polygonal intro logo to the warping, scaling, and rotation effects throughout the actual game. And, much like Metal Slug, the bosses in Gunstar Heroes are made up of tons of sprites that move and jiggle independently. Not only did Gunstar Heroes’ graphical effect enhance the visual apprearance of the game, but it also help increase the variety of the gamplay.

No other game on the Genesis pushed the system as far as this technical marvel. In fact, nothing on the Super Nintendo scaled objects as well, or moved this fast or smoothly with the possible exception of a few Super FX chip games.
Full Review of Gunstar Heroes

 Panorama Cotton
This European shooter had incredible 3D effect backgrounds, making the MegaDrive hardware do things that the Nintendo fanboys claimed were impossible on the Sega machine.

The game plays much like Space Harrier and Burning Force. It looks much better than the Genesis versions of those two titles and its pseudo-3D line scrolling hasn’t aged all that badly.

Panorama Cotton is gorgeous to look at as it makes some of the best use of the Genesis’ color palette I’ve ever seen and the backgrounds are ripe with detail. The line scrolling effect is still impressive, even if the overall scaling may seem slightly choppy to a modern gamer’s eye.
Full Review of Panorama Cotton

 Vectorman
Vectorman was, in a way, Sega’s answer to the Donkey Kong Country series and it’s pre-rendered, 3D-like graphics. Vectorman not only looked beaufitul, but also provided some animations that were even more impressive than DKC.

Vectorman’s developers, Blue Sky Software, made use of an impressive new program called “Vector Piece Software”, which allowed the spheres making up Vectorman’s body to be individually animated. That’s why he moves so smoothly, and how he can easily glide into and out of his various transformations.

According to Vectorman’s head developer, Richard Karpp, A large percentage of the levels implemented a creative use of the Genesis’ scrolling backgrounds – it was possible to specify a different scroll offset for each horizontal line, for example, which could give a parallax effect. It was used vertically in a few levels as well, even though vertical scrolling was limited to 8 pixel chunks. Some examples for of its uses were for waterfalls and the conveyor belts.

The bosses were all designed around this technique as well. The first boss that you encounter in the game, which looks like a fighter plane, is actually implemented in the second scrolling playfield, and they used scroll offsets to make it look like it was rotating.

One of the more subtle effects we used was the highlight/shadow mode of the Genesis, which allowed the artists to use more on-screen colors than games typically used. To round out the rest of the graphical effects, you can see dust motes above light fixtures, shimmering arctic waterfalls and some impressive lightning effects. This late Genesis title kept Sega fans interested as Sega prepped the Saturn.
Full Review of Vectorman

Honorable Mentions:

  • Sonic and Knuckles – Not only did this last 2D console Sonic game have some beautiful backgrounds, animation, and a sweet 3D-ish title screen, but its also was the only game to have its special Lock-On cartridge format. It allowed you to attach the older Sonic carts into it and play Knuckles in those games. Very inventive.
  • Contra: Hard Corps – This shooter had a healthy dose of eye candy sprinkled with scaling and rotation effects. Hard Corps also had some awesome backgrounds and level designs that rivals the SNES version of the series in every way. (Review)
  • Virtua Racing – Even though this 3D racer used a built in chip, it was awe-inspiring to see running on the Genesis. And the game’s initial price tag was equally jaw-dropping. (Review)
  • Castlevania Bloodlines – Bloodlines was able to do fake translucency, mirroring, parallax scrolling, cloud effects, transparency, and other graphical feats that pushed the system’s powers were done in this game. (Review)


Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves ScreenshotFatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves
Just about every late Neo-Geo game pushed the system to its limits. How else would SNK continue to such masterful games on hardware that is over a decade old? If I had to choose one game that defines how great of a 2D game SNK can push out of a Neo-Geo, Fatal Fury Mark of the Wolves would top the list.

Although most gamers can expect great visuals from SNK, Mark Of The Wolves features some of the best 2D animation in a fighting game. It has drawn comparisons with Capcom’s Street Fighter 3, and although it doesn’t have quite as many frames of animation as Third Strike, you’d be hard pressed to find many 2D fighters that move as fluidly as this one.

Additionally, the game rivals the likes of Marvel Vs Capcom 2 in terms of special effects; the gratuitous amount of hitting sparks, fiery projectile attacks, and flashy lightning visuals are generously displayed even with the simplest special attack (i.e. Butt’s rising uppercut). It’s simply astounding how smooth the idle animations are and you’ll begin to notice little details for each fighter.
Full Review of Fatal Fury: Mark of the Wolves

 The Last Blade 2
Weighing in at a whopping 554 Megs, The Last Blade 2 has some of SNK’s most lush, detailed graphics ever. The backgrounds are stylized and match the mood of the game perfectly. The separately animated sprite fields add a wonderful sense of depth and movement and they augment the character graphics in a way that adds flair and imagery with out competing or detracting from the characters themselves. This combination creates an atmosphere that really contributes to thrilling, intricate gameplay (much like the first Last Blade did).

Every fighter is so finely detailed and animated that it will make you want to play more simply to admire the art. I guess my only gripe about the art (and this is very minor) is that the characters don’t have their own backgrounds anymore, whereas in the previous Last Blade each fighter had a personalized stage.

The pre-match cinemas are vintage SNK and there is plenty of eye candy effects with the specials and supers. The zoom effect was also appropriately used, keeping the frame rate smooth and constant, not to mention keeping the characters focused.
Full Review of Last Blade 2
Honorable Mentions

  • Samurai Shodown V – This was the last of the offical Neo-Geo games and like other late releases, it was impressive in terms of showing what an old platform could do. SSV nearly topped out the Neo-Geo’s cartridge store capacity at 708 Megs. (Review)
  • King of Fighters 2003 – THE biggest Neo-Geo game ever at 716 Megs. 2003 was the last KOF game on the original Neo-Geo hardware and I still find it hard to believe it’s not a Atomiswave game. (Review)
  • Sengoku 3 – Graphically, the game is a quantum leap over Sengoku 1 and 2. The characters are not only much larger but considerably more detailed with reasonably fluid animation. The special effects for certain attacks are also extremely well done. (Review)
  • Metal Slug 3 – Despite a couple of minor blemishes here and there, Metal Slug 3 is one of the greatest ever 2D titles on any system, and definitely the most well-rounded game in this series. (Review)
  • SNK vs Capcom Chaos – SvC really had some potential as it has some large sprites and great color, unfortunately, it seemed like SNK rushed this title as lacks the detailed characters and smooth animations that many of its other fighters have. And once you actually get into the game, you realize that it is pretty flawed. (Review)


 Yoshi’s Island
Near the end of the SNES’s long journey, Nintendo released one more Mario World-esque game which resulted in the most graphically advanced SNES game — especially in terms of 2D. Yoshi’s Island uses the Super FX 2 microchip to create sprite scaling and polygon effects that are relatively advanced for a Super Famicom/SNES game.

Obviously, the power of the new hardware gave Nintendo the opportunity to display all sorts of great visual effects that had never been seen before. In fact, when compared with 32-bit games being released for Sony’s Playstation, Yoshi’s Island may have left some people scratching their heads, wondering what advantages a CD-based console had over 16-bit cartridges.

The entire game is filled with small details and little enhancements that really push it over the top. Yoshi’s Island features a unique graphical style that looks similar to a children’s book; it’s very colorful, with sketchy, handdrawn looking effects that popup and warp in real-time. Yoshi, Baby Mario, and all of Koopa’s minions animate beautifully. Some enemies move strictly by scaling and rotating around the screen, pushing the SNES to the max.
Full Review of Yoshi’s Island

 StarFox
The first (and one of the few) games to bear the Super FX Chip technology, Star Fox was a technical marvel as far as Super Nintendo games were concerned. The enclosed chip, which was powerful enough to push out flat-shaded polygons and render them reasonably quickly, was also expensive enough to limit its production to just a few titles.

The Super FX chip freed up the system resources inside the SNES and made for one very fast, great-looking, and great-playing 3D shooter. These and other such customized co-processor carts were very expensive to produce, and it was not long before Nintendo began other, cheaper avenues of assault on Sega.
Full Review of Star Fox

 Donkey Kong Country (1, 2, and 3)
This popular series was without doubt one of the best-looking group of platformers to ever grace a 16-bit console. Rare’s development teams had found a way to convert 24-bit animation sequences into a format that a 16-bit console by creating on a high-end SGI workstation and then porting them to the SNES.

It was a technique that was also used in Rare’s Killer Instinct. Rare took significant financial risks in purchasing the expensive SGI equipment used to render the graphics. If the game had not been a commercial success, the company could have gone bankrupt.

Donkey Kong Country also is supposedly the first SNES game to use the scanline trick to push the max on screen colors from 256 to 4096. To summarize, Donkey Kong Country is a game that turned the the 16-bit era around and really got Sega’s attention.
Full review of Donkey Kong Country

Honorable Mentions:

  • Star Ocean & Tales of Phantasia – Star Ocean netted a total of 48 Megabits of compressed data, completely maxing out the cartridge format. Tales of Phantasia was one only other game to come close. Both games were incredibly beautiful and featured voice acting — a rarity for cartridge-based games. (Check out the review of the new Tales of Phantasia GBA Port)
  • Cybernator/Assault Suits Valken – This mech shooter is filled with destructive details and smooth animation. It’s so suprising that this is actually a SNES game, I would say it actually rivals it’s Saturn sequel, Assualt Suit Leynos 2.
  • Axelay – This may be the definitive shooter for the SNES. The high resolution graphics are stunning, and there are so many types of enemies that you rarely see the same one twice. The centerpiece of this game however, are the bosses – they are huge and imposing.
  • Street Fighter Alpha 2 - Did you even know that Alpha 2 runs on the SNES? Sure, its not the best version of the game, but its still impressive to see it running on the Super Nintendo.
  • Stunt Race FX – The second game which used the FX chip, but this racing game wasn’t quite as impressive as Star Fox.
  • Killer Instinct – As mentioned above, it used a graphic techinique similar to Donkey Kong Country and brought it to the 2D fighter genre.


Sonic CD
Possibly the best Sega CD game and the best Sonic the Hedgehog game ever, Sonic CD took advantage of the Sega CD is just about every possible way. The blazing fast gameplay that was possible in the original Genesis Sonic games was already impressive enough. Instead of doing a quick port like some other Genesis-to-Sega CD games (Eternal Champions, Earthworm Jim), Sonic CD was a complete renovation of the Sonic games.

Sonic CD started with a great FMV video intro that was enough to make Sonic fans drool (even if the music was cheesy), but it didn’t end there. Sonic CD featured and incredible CD audio soundtrack, amazing sound effects (I still love Dr. Robotnik’s evil laugh to this day), improved 3D-like Bonus Rounds that took adavantage of the SCD’s extra processing capabilities, and 2 additional variations of each level (Past and Future) via the game’s time-travel feature. Why Sega never built off of Sonic CD’s features, I’ll never know.
Full Review of Sonic CD

 Silpheed
One of my first and favorite Sega CD games was an amazing shooter that featured a heavy dose of pseudo-3D action and cutscenes. I still think Silpheed is impressive to this day.

Using polygonal objects with twice the level of detail of those from Star Fox, and taking up almost the entire screen at a high fps while doing it, Silpheed’s graphics are technically brilliant.
As your craft makes its way through hostile territory, the on-rails camera forces you left and right, offering panoramic views of incoming armadas, cramped Star Wars style trenches, and bumpy, obstacle-ridden surfaces.

The nicest parts are when it misses a huge object by about a centimeter, giving a real sense of physical immersion in spite of the obvious limitations of the time, such as background pop-up.
Full Review of Silpheed

Honorable Mentions:

  • The Lunar Series – The Sega CDs inproved storage capacity allowed developers to bring epic RPGs to life in a way that was not possible before. Both Lunar games capitalized on these strengths by bringing FMV cutscenese, magical soundtracks, and massive amounts of gameplay to the Sega CD. (Review)
  • All those FMV Games – While the gameplay sucked for the most part, the videos had to be optimized in order to get the most colors out of the Genny’s limited palete. Some of the FMV games received 32X upgrades that boosted the image quality. Between the Sega CD’s storage compacity and the 32X’s image upgrade, these titles maxed out the Genesis architecture.

You Might Also Enjoy These Links:
Games That Actually NEED a Sequel
The Best Sega Genesis Games For Nintendo Revolution


Continue to Part 2!

67 Comments

  1. neohx_7 says:

    Racketboy, do you ever stop to breathe? You must be working on new content 24×7? LOL. Good stuff too, but you should have put Street Fighter Alpha 2 for SNES and Sonic and Knuckles for Genesis.

  2. racketboy says:

    hehe — actually, I’ve been developing this piece for months now. A little bit at a time.

    And yeah, somebody reminded me of SFA2 in the forums — I can’t believe I forgot it :)

    And yeah, I guess S&K makes sense — if nothing more than for the cart format :)

    I’ll be adding them soon :)

    Thanks!

  3. Mozgus says:

    The link for the review of Kirby on NES is wrong. It leads to Castlevania 3. Also, how did Castlevania beat out Kirby? Kirby pushed the NES so much further, in sheer animation.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Nice job Racketboy, but there’s a genny game that was released near the end of the lifecycle that pushed it even farther than Gunstar Heroes. That game is Alien Soldier, and it’s an amazing game to boot. You have to play it.

  5. racketboy says:

    Thanks!
    You may want to read my post about my favorite Genesis games:
    http://www.racketboy.com/retro/2006/02/best-sega-genesis-games-for-nintendo.html

    I mentioned Alien Solider right at the beginning :)

  6. meechp123 says:

    what a great article! glad i found your site!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Not to fuss over the details, but as a Neo freak I’d just like to point out that the theoretical limit is a full one gig, if you wanted to use an unlikely configuration of chips – and KOF2003 was bigger than the games you mentioned, at 716mbits.

    Also, Kirby was robbed!

  8. racketboy says:

    Thanks for the correction!
    I will be making the revisions soon. I’ve had some requests for my Kirby in the message board and elsewhere. I’ll bump him up soon also

    Keep the suggestions coming!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Couldn’t agree more about Sonic CD, best Sonic game ever.

    Are you also going to do the CD-I, Jaguar CD, Turbo Graphix 16 and Turbo Duo? Ah, memories.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Err, was suppose to say “Turbo Graphix 16 CD”

  11. Rootbeer says:

    If I’m not mistaken, the character sprites in SMB3 are the exact same size as those in SMB1: 32px wide, 64px tall in “Super Mario” size. The reason Mario looks so much better in the later game is a combination of brighter colors, better detailing, and smoother animation.

    Also if I’m not mistaken, only the Japanese release of the Sega Master System/Mark III contained the FM Synthesis sound chips that were later also used in the Genesis/Megadrive — US/EU/Global versions of the 8-bit machine had only simple tone/noise generators. While it may be possible that Phantasy Star was produced and distributed with an FM soundtrack in place (few games were, Outrun being probably the best-known), one would not experience its full glory on most Master System consoles.

  12. Anonymous says:

    No one liked Strider Arcade CD. It wasn’t a good port compared to Genesis.

    Just sayin’!

  13. Anonymous says:

    Dragon Warrior 4 is NOT 1MB in size, it is 512k. I’d love to see this myth die.

    The only 1MB version is an overdump which contains each 16k page duplicated somewhere else in the file.

  14. rio says:

    These are basically all consoles, but what about older 8-bit computers?

    On the Commodore 64, you have games like “Armalyte” “Turrican II” and “Mayhem in Monsterland”

  15. racketboy says:

    Thanks for the contributions and comments. I’ve made a bunch of updates and corrections.

    As for the 8-bit computers, I really don’t know much about them. Also, I mainly deal with console games on my site. But I’d love to learn about them if you’d like to share your thoughts.

  16. Anonymous says:

    Kirby was the largest licensed NES cart (6Mbit).

    “Character graphics” is another term for tile-based graphics, or so I thought. I know what you meant though.

    Just some minor nit-picks. Nice article, thanks.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Forgot Silpheed for Sega CD – it may have been merely a shooter-on-rails, but the movie background (yes silpheed was an FMV game) looks awesome, and interacts with your fighter too :)

    http://www.sega-16.com/Silpheed%20review.htm

    (It says in there that the FMV is only the cutscenes of which there aren’t many, but the background of the stages itself is an FMV, designed to look like polygons being rendered by the Sega CD by using few colors – <16 I think. It works too – I was astonished until I found that it was all FMV, although I can’t find that site anymore. That’s also why the game DOESN’T have CD music – it’s all devoted to the video).

  18. Anonymous says:

    Could you add the original date of release to all of these?

  19. jeremy says:

    for nes: Bahamut Lagoon and Treasure Hunter G pushed the nes harder than any. Those 2 games look better than 99% of games on SNES, Genesis and even Playstation.

  20. racketboy says:

    I may add the dates later.
    I originally had the dates of the systems, but I thought it cluttered the page.

    As for Bahamut Lagoon and Treasure Hunter G, I think they are both SNES games, not NES

  21. racketboy says:

    And I can’t believe I forgot Silpheed. It was actually one of the first Sega CD games I got and I was blown away by it. I will definately be putting that one under Sonic CD once I get a chance.

    I still think it’s a cool game :)

  22. LordBug says:

    Was Phantasy Star out before Legend of Zelda? I (and others I’m sure) consider it the first console RPG, even though it’s an action-RPG.

    Can’t wait for part 2!

  23. racketboy says:

    Zelda was released a year before PS, but I was referring to turn-based RPGs. Good catch, though :)

  24. Anonymous says:

    Love the article, I had a similar idea for one, once, but was always too lazy to write it. Very happy you remembered Star Ocean and Tales of Phantasia on SFC – extremely impressive games with some lovely backgrounds and lots of voice!

    Only complaint is I think you should have mentioned Phantasy Star’s smooth scrolling 3D dungeons… lightyears ahead of anything else released at that time, I remember being blown away when I first saw them (it’s still one of my favorite games ever).

    Some other games that I feel maxed out their respective systems:

    Saturn – Radiant Silvergun, Panzer Dragoon Saga

    PS1 – Gran Turismo 2, Vagrant Story

    GBA – Gunstar Super Heroes

    N64 – Sin and Punishment

    GB – Link’s Awakening

  25. Anonymous says:

    There was a version of Sonic the Hedgehog on the SMS? I’m pretty sure that’s incorrect.

  26. Anonymous says:

    This post has been removed by a blog administrator.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Great article. A few things I’d like to add: Someone mentioned Alien Soldier for the Genesis, and I concur, it is the most technically impressive Genesis game. I’m not actually sure if it was ever released, I played a ROM of it which appeared to be a tech show version of the game “Now is the time to set the 68000 heart on fire!” The 68000 of course being the Genesis processor. Also, you should mention AH-3 Thunderstrike for Sega CD. Absolutely spectacular heli shootersim, mind blowing missions and first person graphics. Finally, I believe that Phantasy Star was actually the second RPG released for the SMS, the first one would have been Miracle Warriors: Seal of the Dark Lord.

  28. Mozgus says:

    If you ever get around to including gameboy or any handheld systems, be sure to mention Shantae for GBC, and Capcom vs SNK for NGPC. Amazing animation on those games.

  29. Anonymous says:

    I think (the always overlooked and under-appreciated) Faxanadu on the NES deserves a mention. The mist levels are pretty intense for 8-bit!!

  30. Anonymous says:

    It’s always good to read an article that talks about old-school systems and their graphics as many people forget how much work it took to make games shine on such systems. Great job!

    You are quite correct in Solaris being a great technical acheivement for the 2600, compare it to Combat and it’s not hard to see the difference. Some other games for the 2600 that could also be mentioned in pushing the system would include:
    Pitfall 2 – Featured amazing depth and graphics for the 2600 and also included a soundtrack, which is basically unheard of on the 2600.
    Radar Lock – Uses a graphics engine similar in several ways to Solaris.

    I look forward to part 2. Especially about the part featuring the Atari Jaguar.

  31. Hiub says:

    Great article! Man, just made me get on my arcade and play a while :) I don’t know if you knew, but Metal Slug 4 and 5 are out as well, and they look GREAT! Check them out! The last one was even made by SNK Playmore, and they still did a great job in keeping with the original theme.

  32. JMacGill says:

    For the Genesis, you’re forgetting Toy Story. It had many affects like 3D scrolling backgrounds and Doom like FPS sections that were thought to be imposable to do on that hardware. AND it also had prerendered CGI graphics, like Donky Kong Country.

  33. Alex says:

    If memory serves, Street Fighter II: Championship Edition is the largest HuCard ever released on the TG-16/PC-Engine. There’s a game that definitely pushed NEC’s hardware.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Hands down, one of the most impressive games on the original NES was Battletoads. The originality of each stage (I believe there were around 12 back in the day when 8 was considered huge) made you believe it was a 16 bit game all the way. From descending deep chasms on a rope to going at the speed of light on racer bikes to climbing on the backs of snakes to a literal rat race to climbing a giant tower that tracks in 3D as you walk around it, this game was and still is amazing.

  35. Wendell III says:

    If we can speak of impressive games on really old systems, let us not forget Mayhem In Monsterland on the Commodore 64… Released a full 11 years after the initial release of the system itself, it’s a fairly mindblowing experience when you consider the hardware. It was also one of the last major commercial titles for the platform.

    Check it out:

    http://users.skynet.be/NightGem/c64_mayhem.htm

  36. Anonymous says:

    How can you possibly call Eternal Champions a “quick port”? They added a ton of content – from new combos and endings, to new characters and levels. Eternal Champions on Sega CD was more a sequel than a port.

  37. bobo says:

    Hmm…when I think of pushing the limits, I think of the games that I really couldn’t believe when I first saw or played them. I stopped playing games at the N64, but everything before that holds a special place in my heart. So what comes to mind:

    NES: Super Mario 1 & 3. Battletoads. Maybe Blaster Master? Mega Man II (probably the best graphics for its time).

    TG16 (CD): Y’s books 1 & 2 (music and cartoon sequences were amazing). Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective (first FMV game, if I’m not mistaken).

    TG16: Sure the game wasn’t great, but the original pack-in Keith Courage had some damn impressive graphics (the parts of each level when you were in the robot suit, that is).

    Genesis: Strider (most amazing graphics I can remember – and wasn’t this the first 8 meg cart?). Original Sonic too.

    SNES: F-Zero (using that one slow accelerating, but fast car, going over one of the arrows – that was the fastest thing I’d seen at that point). Donkey Kong Country (I can’t include any sequels because they really didn’t blow anyone’s mind much more than the original). Pilotwings too you could make a case for as it really showed the built in hardware abilities (scaling, rotation, etc.) that the SNES had. So I wouldn’t say it pushed the limits of the SNES, but the graphical effects were great compared to anything we had seen at the time.

    N64: StarFox 64 (graphics, animation, smooth flight, multiplayer mode – though admittedly my view may be skewed by how fun it was). Seeing the 3d world of Super Mario 64 was truly mind blowing.

    Those are all the systems I was really familiar with so I can’t comment on others.

    Also I’m sure I’m missing a ton, but those the ones that immediately come to mind when thinking about what really blew me away.

  38. Anonymous says:

    You failed to mention that,
    Uniracers – SNES
    is the fastest game and most demanding of all SNES games. Shame on you.

  39. Anonymous says:

    Great article but under the NES games I would like to recommend a great 1 or 2 player game that really pushed the graphics on the NES. Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers.

  40. Anonymous says:

    Were is Super Probotector SNES?
    -Mode7 Zoom+Rotation
    -Transparency
    -Giant Sprites
    -2Player Coop (no other Title except Mario Kart)

  41. This post has been removed by the author.

  42. Star Cruiser for the Mega Drive was an interesting title. A port from the PC88, it featured huge polygons and scaling and rotation before Star Fox. I almost never see it brought up, though.

  43. alex says:

    hi nice site.

  44. andy says:

    i think Super Turrican 2 looked pretty amazing for Super Nintendo. i haven’t played it but i saw some videos on youtube.

  45. Alex says:

    Not a bad article, but you need to check some facts and see some impressive games that are missing^^

    Genesis:
    Castlevania Bloodlines gfx were really a mixed bag, some of it looked 8-bitish and the palette was poor. The sound effects sucked too.

    Panorama Cotton isn’t a European shooter, it’s obviously Japanese :P

    Don’t forget Adventures of Batman & Robin!

    Master System:
    Gunstar Heroes wasn’t released for the Master System but for the GameGear. Tech Toy has confirmed this. Dynamite Headdy was though..

    But some better choices for SMS would be Land of Illusion starring Mickey Mouse, Power Strike 2, Laser Ghost, Lucky Dime Caper and of course Wonder Boy 3: Dragon’s Trap.

  46. DevilDoom says:

    Sonic CD you forgot one thing about it that was the first time Metal SOnic was introduced and to today he is still one of the most Hardcore Villains who most Sonic fans (including me) love

  47. andy says:

    a few more for Super Nintendo

    -Biometal
    -Sparkster
    -Space Megaforce
    -Rendering Ranger

    all of them pushed tons of sprites on screen without any slowdowns

  48. my favorite strider version is the pc engine version. however is not identical to the arcade like the genesis version. the truth is the truth and that’s it. in fact the editor mention that the pc engine version is the same as the arcade and is not. but its still my favorite strider version. great sound and cute cinemas. pc engine rules.

  49. Fenno Man says:

    About your SMB3 review…the only special chip inside the cartridge of the game is MMC3 and it’s functions are anything but sound related; it’s a bank switching chip. NES does have a DPCM channel so it’s no wonder you can hear actual digital samples in many of the later NES games such as the drums in SMB3.

  50. racketboy says:

    Cool — thanks for the clarification!

  51. koshman says:

    great article! I just want to correct one detail – Phantasy Star was released on a 4Mb cartridge (as in 4 megabit = 512KB), not 4MB.

  52. butane bob says:

    Assault Suit Leynos 2 wasn’t the sequel to cybernator, it was the sequel to assault suit leynos (target earth) on the megadrive. There wasn’t a sequel to cybernator… but the super famicom game front mission 2 was developed by some of the same people and plays similarly.

    Also check out the famicom version of castlevania 3 – it sounds twice as good as the western version, and also check out another famicom game Lagrange Point for some unbelievable music.

  53. racketboy says:

    Actually, it’s in the same series as both of those games and is in between, so the way I see it, is a sequel:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault_Suits_series

  54. manati says:

    Great article but you forgot Sonic 3D Flickies’ Island for the Mega Drive, grapically the most impressing Sonic title in the 16-bit time.

  55. Alex (PresidentLeever) says:

    Here’s another one for nes – Batman: Revenge of the Joker. It had huge, detailed sprites, lots of action on screen and an excellent soundtrack.

  56. Alex (PresidentLeever) says:

    Oh and there was no Gunstar Hereos for the master system, it was ported to the gamegear ;)

  57. Ian says:

    For SNES, no SMRPG? The game was pretty much 3D, crammed into a 32 MB cartridge.

  58. Aulef says:

    Cool list. I can tell a game for NEO GEO that has the same quality as Mark of the Wolves: ART of Fighting 3…just see for yourself ;)

    its really hard to make a list like this because you d have to play thousands of games…but the attempt is valid the choises for sure pushed them to the limits (may not be 100% but over 90% for sure)

    congrats!

  59. nash says:

    Yes, you forgot to mention alien soldier on genesis

  60. werwe says:

    What a biased article. You can tell this guy was a Sega owner back in the day.

  61. Pwnage says:

    You really need to add SoulStar, Thunderhawk and Adventures of Batman and Robin to the SegaCD section. Not very good games but they do push the console to the limit, much more so than sonic CD.

  62. Zell says:

    great work racketBoy But you missed pitfall,pitfall 2 and jr pacman for atari 2600

  63. Vorian Atreides says:

    Great article…but there is 1 gem missing from the sega master system, where is R-Type ?That game looked amazing on the master system…for me at the time it had the best graphics on the system.It was almost a perfect port!For an 8bit system R-Type is a masterpiece!

  64. asdasd says:

    Captain Tsubasa Vol 2 Super Striker is probably the most technically advanced game ever programmed on Famicom. You should check it out.
    Stunning cinema-displays and gorgeous music.

  65. shubham says:

    You sjould check out Felix The Cat for NES by hudson. its not only smooth but also bright and colorful. it also shipped in a cartige with custom chips like SMB3 which enhance capabilities of NES.
    Looks like I m pretty late in this site as it seems dead now

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