The 8 Best Video Game Intros of the 90s

Each month the Cinelinx staff will write a handful of articles covering a specified video game-related topic. These articles will be notified by the Gamerlinx banner. Gamerlinx, like our Movielinx counterpart, is an exploration and discussion of our personal connections with the world of gaming. This month in Movielinx we’re exploring the best performances, and we thought we’d take a similar approach to Gamerlinx.  All month long we’ll be looking at and exploring the best cutscenes in games; which were used to move the story forward.

Cutscenes are simply storytelling devices in gaming, and designed to move the plot forward.  While most people think of this in terms of moments throughout the game, it’s important to remember the scenes that gets the entire game started: intros!  Intros can get you pumped to play a game and engage you in the story presented.  A little while ago I presented the best intros from the 00s but with our focus on gaming cut scenes this month, I thought it was a great time to revisit this idea with games from the 90s.

Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle (1993)

This is almost less of an intro and more of an independent cartoon.  Like watching a short cartoon before seeing a Disney flick, a lot of story is contained within this opening, along with heaps of humor.  This Tim Schafer game (yeah, you know the name) is a sequel to point-and-click game Maniac Mansion, and utilized gameplay-changing time travel as the primary focus.  Humor plays a critical role in the story of the game and the intro sets the tone perfectly, while firmly establishing the characters.  You’re watching the dastardly deeds of a tentacle with arms and the three goofy kids who try to stop him . . . what more could you ask for?

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996)

Mario was entering an entirely new genre, and this intro helped fans to sort of bridge that gap.  It displayed the various different elements of the game, letting players know there was still plenty of traditional Mario gameplay features to keep them comfortable, while introducing the new stuff.  If you’ve ever played a Mario game you’ll automatically know the story, so the beginning isn’t exactly integral to play the game, but with all new graphics it’s still a treat to see.  By no means is it as intense as some of the others on this list, but it still fulfills its job in getting you excited and ready to play.

Soul Blade (1996)

This is a great introduction to a great fighting game.  Before it became Soul Caliber, this game was tearing up the 3D fighting market.  While it was the second 3D fighter to give players a weapon, this was the first one to really do it right.  The intro lets players know from the start what they’ll be getting into.  It does a great job of introducing all of the playable characters, getting a feel for their backstory, as well as giving a taste of what their fighting style is like.  Gamers could start making their decision on who to use long before reaching the selection screen.  This cinematic gives a good taste of the type of fast paced action the game would employ, and lays out the story (which is great, because with most fighting games, an intro is about all of the story you’re likely to get).

MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries (1996)

When I first saw this back when it was initially released, I nearly crapped my pants.  I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, this is the future of gaming.”  Now, I wonder why the hell they’re all moving so slow!  Despite the age of the graphics, they’ve managed to hold up a decent amount.  This intro thrusts you immediately into the action.  There’s no warm up, no segue; you are instantly treated to war on an epic scale.  It’s a great set-up to the game itself and the pace of action you’re about to be treated to.  It’s making this list mostly because it was one of the early games that helped set the bar for all 3D cinematics to come, where high detail and going all out are now the standard.

Wild Arms (1997)

One of the first RPGs to hit the Playstation, Wild Arms didn’t pull any punches when it came to the opening.  Instead of attempting to use the 3D visuals now capable on the Playstation, Wild Arms went with an anime style that allowed them unlimited possibilities.  Playing out like the beginning of a great movie, this intro hits all of the right notes (literally, because it has one of the best video game songs playing while watching) and just gets you excited about the story.

Final Fantasy VIII (1999)

You didn’t really think this wouldn’t be on here, did you?  I toyed with putting FF7 on here, but frankly, I feel FFVIII’s intro is better.  Sure, VII’s intro is a classic these days and even saw that uber cool PS3 technical demo (which broke many of our hearts by not turning out to be a full on remake), but this one brought the goods.  By introducing a little mystery and a little creepiness, this intro sucks you in from the start and has you wanting to figure out what is going on.  Then it kicks things up a notch by displaying a great sword/gun battle to get you hooked into the action and excited to play.  With those two elements working together, it’s an almost irresistible call to play the game.

Super Smash Bros. (1999)

When you are preparing for the mother of all crossover smack downs, you want an intro that will get you pumped up and ready to dominate your friends.  The original Super Smash Bros. intro does that in fine fashion.  Yeah, it starts off kind of slow – and odd – but in a flash it transitions into a fast-paced hard hitting cinematic on the same level as the game itself.  It quickly introduces all of your favorite characters and demonstrates how battles are played out against one another.  The best thing: all of it is accomplished within a small time frame, so right as gamers reach start getting anxious to finally play, suddenly you are!

Legacy of Cain: Soul Reaver (1999)

After watching this again, I felt a sudden sorrow and longing for a return to the Legacy of Cain franchise.  It was good, and many of the games featured a surprisingly deep story (not deep gameplay though).  This intro started off Soul Reaver with a bang.  The narrator quickly and adeptly catches gamers up to current events: giving a strong sense of lore, without bogging down the players with drawn out explanations.  While there is no action to speak of in the game, it nicely starts the story off with good old-fashioned betrayal, and a teasing cliffhanger that leaves you begging to play, just to find out what happens next.  This is a prime example of a intro that gets you ready to play.

I know I should have included Metal Gear Solid on this list, but considering my co-worker already mentioned the game last week in his Gamerlinx article, I decided to give other games the spotlight instead.  

Like I said, the graphics might not be the prettiest thing to look at these days, but had it not been for these early cinematics, video game storytelling might look very different.  These helped both set the bar for graphics and lay the foundations for excellent stories.  Despite what they may look like, the effect on players remains the same, which make these intros timeless and worth revisiting.