Hello, and welcome to the inaugural installment of Video Games Of Old, a series in which we'll appreciate various aspects of old-school sports video games (in other words, games made before 2000) and vote on our favorites.
Appropriately enough, we're kicking this off with a study of some of the best intro sequences. Remember: we aren't voting on the best game -- if we did, Tecmo Super Bowl would win this list by a landslide. Instead, we're considering only the intro sequence, even if the rest of the game was total crap.
I had quite a time looking through all the intros from old-school games I could find, but it's very possible that I missed some good ones. If you notice any glaring omissions, please feel free to let us know in the comments.
So! Here are our five candidates. And stay tuned in the coming days for our study of the worst intro sequences.
Tecmo Super Bowl (NES, 1991)
I used to go over to my friend's house and play Tecmo Super Bowl all the time. His dad was one of those parents who told his kid to do stuff, but never actually made him do anything. Every time we fired up the game, his dad would always overhear this music ...
... and yell from the next room, "Hey, you playin' the Techno Bowl? Told you you had to cut the lawn before playin' the Techno Bowl." (Misunderstanding titles of childhood pop-culture minutiae is a 1990s Adult Thing. See also: "Teenage Turtles," "The Bart Simpson Show.") So my friend would indignantly yell back, "I'm gunnoo! Gawddd-uh!", and we'd just get back to playing. I was in awe. At home, when my parents told me to do something, I actually had to do them. This kid was a god.
This intro sequence was artistically and graphically superior to just about anything else Nintendo had going on. The way it panned the sprites on top of one another created a faux-3D effect that is so cool that you still see it today -- not, of course, as a means of jury-rigging a third dimension, but as an aesthetic tool. Barry Sanders jukes a nameless, hapless Raiders defender, Lawrence Taylor unzips and takes a big ol' whiz on Ernest Byner, and you are properly stoked for one of the most fun football video games of all time.
The lawn was never mowed that summer. Or "cut," as his dad said. "Cut the lawn" makes it sound like you're going at it with a pair of scissors, which would explain a great deal about the whole dilemma.
Formula One World Championship: Beyond The Limit (Sega CD, 1993)
When I was 10 years old, I brokered an arrangement by which I would combine months of allowance with my Christmas present to buy a Sega CD. Shortly after I bought it, they pretty much stopped making Sega CD games, and I was left to root through the handful of games with splintered cases that they just sort of dumped on the floor in K-Mart's electronics section. ("Buying Sega CD games at K-Mart" ranks alongside "buying a rain stick at Natural Wonders" and "buying a slammer mat at the pog stand in the mall" in the pantheon of Most 1990s Transactions Possible).
Most of these games were God-horrible. But one, Beyond the Limit, was incredible. It concerned Formula One racing, which I knew absolutely nothing about, but its intro successfully convinced me that it was the coolest thing on the planet.
This game was one of the first to feature a full motion video intro. It's 100 seconds of air guitar and open-wheel racing and petrol fumes and cars spinning into the dirt. It was a source of wonder.
What is JOOP?, I wondered. To me, Europe was an alternate reality that was like 7 percent different from my own reality, so maybe JOOP was what they called Jeeps in Europe? I don't know, it was probably pudding. Nobody tell me.
On the whole, the Sega CD was terrible. Joe Montana's NFL Football looked and played far worse than Genesis football games. All it really had going for it was MOVIES IN A VIDEO GAME. But it did have that, and this intro sequence is still one of the raddest I've ever seen.
Skate Or Die 2 (NES, 1990)
"SKATE OR DIE"
"Uh ... skate."
"SKI OR DIE."
"Let's go with ski."
"SKATE OR DIE 2"
"But you already asked ... whatever. Um, skate."
"OKAY THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME AND GOD BLESS"
- Skate or Die video game franchise, 1987-1990
Skate or Die 2's intro sequence offers just about nothing in the way of visuals. This is an audio experience.
This. Song. SHREDS. I don't know how they got so many damn noises to come out of a single Nintendo at the same time. The game should have been packaged with a proprietary A/V cable for your Nintendo with an extra connector that plugged into a jack on your television labeled RADICAL DUUUUUDE, a jack that does not exist on account of how impossibly hard this f***in' thing jams.
I hear it and I picture a 2008 Beijing Olympics-style legion of 15,000 Nintendos banging out a shroud-renting tribute to the Cartridge Lord. SKATE OR ELSE DIE.
NHL '99 (PlayStation and PC, 1998)
This intro sequence is legendary among hockey video game enthusiasts, and for good reason: at the time, many TV shows would have killed for production values like this.
Full-motion video sequences had been around for years, but now they were book-ending games that were actually worth playing. This one is divided into two halves, the first of which was a series of highlights set to David Bowie's "Heroes." It's pretty terrific.
Then it turns into every modern sports video game intro you've ever seen. Bowie is clumsily dumped in favor of canned power chords, and flying around all over the place is that distorted lowercase typeface we were all in love with around the turn of the millennium. It's all just so espntwooey. And at the end, of course, there's the trope of the three-dimensional title logo EXPLODING. Only it explodes to reveal ... the same logo. And then it EXPLODES AGAIN ... and it's the same logo AGAIN. It still isn't Goldeneye 007. You guys wanna give it another try? No? All right.
In retrospect, I'm not very big on this intro. But within the context of late-'90s video games, it's very well-done, and I couldn't leave it off this list in good conscience.
Michael Jordan In Flight (PC, 1992)
As well as I can figure, Michael Jordan In Flight was the first truly 3D sports game of all time. The players were sprites -- in other words, two-dimensional, animated images -- but they played on a three-dimensional court years before it became the standard for basketball video games.
With this intro sequence, Michael Jordan In Flight flexed its muscles from the outset.
I realize that there are probably 15-year-olds watching this and thinking, "this looks terrible." Well, it does, and this game wasn't all that fun to play, either. But basketball video games needed this. Baseball and football games worked well enough within the confines of an 8-bit world to be fun, but in basketball, a lot of things are happening in a relatively small space, and very quickly. Before the appropriate technology rolled around, game developers just couldn't find a way to make a good basketball game.
So you know what we were stuck with? This shit.
People will lie to you and tell you that games like Double Dribble were fun, but the reality is that you were trying to control little tiny dudes on relatively small, blurry, fuzzy, static-y 1980s television sets. No good. The legendary NBA Jam managed to find a solution by throwing four guys on the court instead of 10, and making them bigger and more easily visible.
Others -- in fact, most basketball games that are made today -- followed the trail blazed by Michael Jordan In Flight, and the intro sequence was our first-ever taste of such videos. We're dropping in from the sky. We've touched the baseline. We're swinging around to the corner. And then, out of nowhere ...
... BOOM. Michael Jordan's big ol' butt. The future is now.