Let’s discuss the world of video games 30 years ago. Whether you were there or not, talk about what games you have played from 1988.
I was lucky enough that year to be a multi-format 8-bit owner and to have a pretty big network of borrowing and trading games. 16-bit computers were out of my price range so I had to catch up more with those later. It was an amazing time for home and arcade gaming, and still one of my personal favourite years.
At the time, it was a common attitude (in some regions anyway) that the NES was the only game in town. I have always disagreed with that. While it was understandable that mostly very young gamers thought that at the time, I’m more disappointed that that the notion still exists on the internet today on message boards and in the media given all the information available.
Release dates varied a lot by region back then. Talk about whatever region’s 1988 games you want. I decided to include all regions. I listed 1988 games by North American release year unless noted otherwise.
Here are some classics, not in any particular order -
Phantasy Star (SMS)
This was the game that had the biggest impact on me that year. JRPGs were new in the West (Sega released Miracle Warriors in English in 1988 as well) and Phantasy Star felt like such a fresh take on roleplaying with its stylish Japanese artwork, planetary travel, female lead character, and smooth 3d dungeons. It was the most advanced console game on the market and looked pretty close to a 16-bit computer or arcade game.
Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES)
Mario’s epic return remains somewhat divisive among fans given its conversion from another game but I always thought it was fantastic and worthy of the franchise. Being able to pick up and throw so many objects and having a selection of characters was a great evolution of Nintendo’s brand of platforming.
Prior to Game Boy mania, Atari Games’ coin op version of Tetris seemed to me like the one with the most exposure.
Still highly overlooked to this day, this samurai horror classic was full of depth and atmosphere. You would travel a map of Japan learning new offensive and defensive skills along the way.
Of all 1988 releases, this is probably my most replayed and it felt like big step forward for home action platformers. Instead of just trying to squeeze the arcade game into console hardware, Sega reworked it by adding a life gauge and power ups. It brought the game closer design-wise to what the series would become in the 16-bit “Neo Zeed” era of Shinobi.
Last Ninja 2: Back with a Vengeance (C64)
Computer gaming had its own ninja classic that year. This time the series left medieval Japan for modern day New York City. I still prefer the first game’s quicker moves and serene settings although ditching most of the frustrating trial-and-error platforming was quite welcome. Both have amazing soundtracks as well.
Chop 'n Drop (C64)
Like with Last Ninja 2, System 3’s latest International Karate game was published in North America by Activision. While not as varied for locations as the first IK/World Karate Championship game, the added background animations and three simultaneous fighters made it stand out. IK+ was also released with enhanced graphics on Amiga in Europe in 1988.
Death Sword (C64)
Another great UK fighter to cross the Atlantic in 1988 was Palace Software’s Barbarian, published by Epyx as Death Sword. Gotta love the decapitation move and laughing troll creature thing. I still die on the last boss most of the time, though. It was a multi-format game but the C64 version stood above the rest for its awesome Conan-inspired soundtrack.
Double Dragon (NES, SMS)
Double Dragon hit home systems that year. I didn’t care much for the computer ports but the console versions had their merits. I preferred the NES version where the moves and collision resembled the arcade’s feel but the SMS port had two-player simultaneous play.
I think many would agree this was the definitive run 'n gun of that time, even above the arcade version due to its more responsive controls. For pure adrenaline action, Contra was one of the best games out there. And the Contra code even lived on as an easter egg on the Bank of Canada’s website last year.
Blades of Steel (NES)
Konami also excelled at sports games. I still remember playing this against a friend for seven hours in a row. My geezer ass would never do that now.
John Madden Football (Apple II)
1988 saw the first EA Madden football game as well as Accolade’s 4th & Inches football game ported to 16-bit formats like the Apple IIGS.
Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders (C64, PC)
Lucasfilm followed up Maniac Mansion with another impressive light-hearted SCUMM engine graphic adventure.
King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella (PC)
1988 was a big year for Sierra graphic adventure games with King’s Quest IV, Police Quest II, and the second Leisure Suit Larry game showing off their new Sierra Creative Interpreter engine. These were all on DOS PC and later ported to other computers.
Police Quest 2: The Vengeance (PC)
Laser Squad (Spectrum, C64)
Modem Wars (PC, C64)
Modem Wars was ahead of its time for being both a real time strategy game and for being playable online via modems.
Total Eclipse (Spectrum, CPC)
If the release dates I see are correct, the ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC versions came out in 1988 and other computer ports in 1989. While this game would be tough for many to go back to today due to its snail’s pace, back when I had it on C64 I was really impressed just to have an actual 3d, first-person world to explore.
Starglider II (Atari ST, Amiga)
Developed by Argonaut of later Star Fox fame, the second Starglider game continued the impressive 3d flight combat of the original and replace wireframe models with polygons.
Apache 3 (Arc)
I didn’t realize just how obscure this Data East/Tatsumi rail shooter was at the time. It was kind of like Thunder Blade’s 3d sections meets Choplifter.
Galaxy Force II (Arc)
We have an awesome thread already for this game by SharpX68X. https://www.resetera.com/threads/segas-galaxy-force-ii-is-30-years-old-this-year-a-graphical-tour-de-force-in-88.27298/
It was mindblowing stuff at the time and still damn good to play today on 3DS.
Power Drift (Arc)
It might not seem as special in a post-Mario Kart world but Sega’s kart racer gave the genre a trippy sense of vertical movement that was rare at the time.
RC Pro-Am (NES)
Consoles weren’t really equipped for high end 3d racers yet. Rare did a great job with their smoothly animated isometric driving game.
Bionic Commando (NES)
This was more of a sequel to the arcade game than a port. The grappling platform/shooting was present but the design was expanded into a non-linear world with story elements and exploring to find new items. The map movement was similar to Kenseiden but given they were released in Japan only around a month apart, it’s likely coincidental.
Ghouls 'n Ghosts (Arc)
A few years had gone by since the first GnG, and it showed. The graphics, controls, and variety surpassed the original. I still think this is better designed than its sequels like Super and Ultimate.
Forgotten Worlds (Arc)
Continuing Capcom’s “flying dude” arcade tradition (Section Z, Side Arms), Forgotten World was one of most stylish and unique shooters on the market. “You cannon stop me with paramecium alone!”.
Pool of Radiance (C64, PC)
SSI’s first “Gold Box” game, this was notable for being the first official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons CRPG. There were earlier AD&D games on Intellivision but they just had the license more for marketing purposes.
Wasteland (Apple II, C64, PC)
The spirit of this post apocalyptic RPG lives on in both the Fallout series and recent Wasteland games.
Ultima V: Warriors of Destiny (Apple II, PC)
While not considered as innovative as IV was with its systems of moral choices affecting gameplay and added story elements, V expanded to an even larger quest with day/night cycles and object movement. It didn’t have the flashy graphics of something like Phantasy Star but it was a different type of RPG and had layers of depth for character interaction not available in console RPGs of the time.
Rescue Mission (SMS)
Quite an addictive aerial view light gun game. Between this and Rambo III, it was nice to see the continued light phaser support.
Crossbow (XEGS, 7800)
The Atari XEGS and 7800 felt behind the times in 1988 but Crossbow stood out as one of the more modern feeling games and one of the few home light gun releases that could hang with Sega’s.
Blaster Master (NES)
Aside from the lack of saves, I loved the mix of sidescrolling and overhead action and exploration. I appreciated the little details like being able to exit your vehicle. It’s too bad the Genesis sequel was such a let down.
Golvellius: Valley of Doom (SMS)
A huge upgrade over the MSX original, Golvellius filled the (mostly) overhead action-adventure void on the Master System with memorable characters and an emotional Compile soundtrack.
Cyborg Hunter (SMS)
This had some similarities to other sci-fi action-adventures before it (Zillion, Metroid) although it was more linear. Pretty short but worth playing.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (NES)
While I didn’t like this one quite as much as the original, I thought it was cool that Nintendo tried something new with the series. I wouldn’t mind seeing another Zelda in this style.
Wonder Boy in Monster Land (SMS)
Wonder Boy also departed from the previous game’s style. The 1987 arcade version wasn’t officially released outside of Japan (although I managed to find it at Chuck E. Cheese’s) but I prefer the SMS port anyway due to its tighter controls.
R-Type (MSX2, PC-88, C64, ST, SMS, PCE)
R-Type was a 1987 arcade shooter that saw various home versions in different regions in 1988. The C64 had an impressive port by future Turrican developers with its own European style. The Atari ST version had somewhat choppy scrolling but nice detail. The SMS port had a hidden extra stage with some excellent Compile music. The PC-88 had a solid conversion. The PC Engine version was divided into two separate games but it was the closest graphically to the arcade until surpassed a year later by the X68000 port.
*************New in Japan (but released after 1988 elsewhere, if at all)
The Sega Mega Drive system launched in October although the timing wasn’t great as it as was overshadowed by Super Mario Bros. 3 on Famicom. Sonic was secretly in development at this point.
Ninja Ryukenden (FC)
While I thought it was going to be a Shinobi clone at first glance, NES Ninja Gaiden turned out to have a feel all its own with the wall climbing, fast pace, and “Tecmo Theater” cinemas. This and the second NES one are still my top Tecmo games.
Alien Crush (PCE)
What I have always loved about Alien Crush is that it didn’t try to recreate real pinball like many before it. It knew it was a video game and threw in enemies and boss fights.
Makyou Densetsu (PCE)
The PC Engine was hitting its stride in 1988 with quality games like Makyou Densetsu, a sidescroller with similarities to Rastan and Castlevania. Renamed The Legendary Axe, it was one of the highlights of TurboGrafx-16 launch in the United States and Canada in the summer of 1989.
Rockman 2 (FC)
Snatcher (PC-88, MSX2)
While it didn’t come out in English until its Sega CD remake in 1994, I was still very impressed playing the fan translated version of the original decades later. By 1988 standards, you can tell it was groundbreaking for story heavy adventure games. Expect Hideo Kojima perviness, though.
Star Cruiser (PC-88, X1)
It was a long wait to play this FPS/Adventure/Space Shooter in English as the Mega Drive port was finally translated in 2016. It was a game I really wanted back in the day based on magazine coverage as looked kind of like a fully 3d Phantasy Star. It holds up surprisingly well today.
Final Bubble Bobble (SMS)
This was an enhanced version of the original Bubble Bobble with extra content. It felt closer to the feel of the arcade than the NES and computer versions. Unfortunately it was never released in North America until the cropped screen Game Gear port and didn’t arrive in PAL countries until 1991.
Olympus no Tatakai (FC)
Later released in the West as The Battle of Olympus, Infinity’s action-adventure took place in ancient Greece. I think it’s one of the better action-adventures of that era with more variety than Zelda II, the game it took most of its inspiration from.
Lord of the Sword (SMS)
Opinions have always been mixed on this but I remain a fan. The lack of a save function in a relatively large quest was its biggest issue. And that damn thief that would follow you and take your shit was so annoying. It had some neat details like having arrows bounce off enemies to hit other ones.
While the West was getting an impressive NES port of Konami’s arcade game (Life Force), in Japan the high end X68000 computer was running a much more advanced version. Gradius II also came out on Famicom that year, and did an amazing job of pushing the hardware.
Ys II: Ancient Ys Vanished - The Final Chapter (PC-88, PC-98)
The second game in the long running Ys series was released in Japan even before the first arrived in the West (on the Master System in early 1989). The second game arrived in English in 1990 with the TurboGrafx CD remake.
XZR (PC-88, MSX2)
The first game in the XZR Action/RPG series was released. I always liked the Middle East inspired setting; it was nice to have something other than just Japan/US/Europe. The franchise didn’t appear in English until a few years later with the Exile games on Genesis and TurboGrafx CD. And the games didn’t even come out in Europe (the name Exile was for an unrelated game that originated on BBC Micro there).
Famicom Wars (FC)
This was the first game in Nintendo/Intelligent Systems’ addictive “Wars” turn-based strategy series. The English speaking world was deprived of it until Advance Wars on Game Boy Advance in 2001.
Winning Run (Arc)
Namco’s System 21 hardware game Winning Run was doing polygon driving years before Sega’s Virtua Racing. I missed out on this during its era but I’m sure it would it would have impressed me like Hard Drivin’ and STUN Runner a year or two later.
I better stop myself from listing more games but add anything I didn’t cover and correct anything I got wrong.