What's the best year in gaming?
Image: Nintendo Life

Games are so good, right?

Looking back over the years and decades, it's difficult to actually think of a year that's been objectively bad in terms of gaming output; generally speaking, with the wealth of consoles and developers out there, there's always been at least a handful of games every year that spoke to us in a meaningful way and made a positive impact.

Recently, we looked back at 50 years' worth of games, all playable on Switch, and it got us thinking: Which year is the very best in gaming? If you're like us and have been gaming for the majority of your life, then this is likely quite a tricky question to answer. We here on Team NL tend to gravitate to a select few vintages, and we'd wager they are probably not far off from your opinions, but we're keen to put that to the test.

A few of our writers have shared what they believe to be the very best year in gaming down below, and there's a poll at the bottom to let us know what you think, too. For this one, we're not going to be too strict and limit it purely to Nintendo titles, so if there's something on the PlayStation, Dreamcast, or whichever console you happened to be playing at the time that made an impact on you, definitely factor that into your pick. There are great games everywhere!

First up is Alana, who takes us back to the 16-bit days...

1994 - Alana Hagues, Staff Writer

Image: Nintendo

So... 1994 was pretty good, wasn't it?

I know it's not the first year anyone thinks of when they think about the best year in video games, but it's right up there for me. The SNES was a few years old at this point, but the console was still churning out hit after hit, and Nintendo had two big ones to headline the year — Super Metroid and Donkey Kong Country. No one can argue that these two titles are among the best on the Super Nintendo. Sure, the names aren't as big as your Zeldas or your Marios, but Super Metroid arguably pioneered a whole genre, while Donkey Kong Country perfected side-scrolling platforming and beautiful visuals. Plus it put developer Rare on the map.

Capcom's output helped to bolster the SNES's offerings with Super Street Fighter II: The New Challengers (PJ says it was the best Christmas present ever, so there you go, NL approved) and Mega Man X (which launched in North America in early 1994). Earthworm Jim's blend of humour and fun platforming made it a hit in my household. And this might come as a surprise, but I love NBA Jam — it's easily one of my favourite arcade or multiplayer experiences with friends or my partner.

1994 was also, frankly, an incredible year for RPGs. Final Fantasy VI, EarthBound, and Live A Live (albeit Japan-only until 2022's Switch remake) all launched, which means you've got maybe the best Final Fantasy, a genre-defying game from Shigesato Itoi, and unique anthology RPG that doesn't feel its age today. That's pretty nuts. In non-Nintendo gaming history, this is also the year The Elder Scrolls made a splash with Arena on PC.

Leading the charge for non-Nintendo releases are Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. Hot take — these were my favourite Sonic games until Mania. You've also got System Shock on PC, another huge first-person genre-defining game that influenced the likes of Deus Ex and Bioshock. FromSoftware also released its very first game in Japan this year with the PlayStation's King's Field. And, well, we may as well say it — the PlayStation's Japanese release in 1994 would make massive waves in the industry.

So, on paper, it might not be the biggest year ever, but laid out in front of you, it's really hard to argue with the quality and impact of 1994.

1998 - Ollie Reynolds, Staff Writer

Image: Nintendo

"1998... I'll never forget it" - Leon S. Kennedy

Yes, for me, nothing comes close to 1998 when it comes to exceptional games. The most obvious inclusion here is a game that needs no introduction, and that's The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Without this game, the Zelda franchise would look considerably different than it does now, and that's assuming it would even exist at all. Ocarina of Time is that important.

Not only that, but 1998 introduced western audiences to a little franchise called Pokémon with Red and Blue, and boy, we all know how that all turned out. I still remember unwrapping my Game Boy on Christmas Day with a copy of Pokémon Blue, and it remains one of the happiest gaming moments of my life. We also got one of the very best survival horror games of all time with Resident Evil 2 (although admittedly, Nintendo gamers wouldn't receive this until at least the following year), and although I was personally introduced to the franchise with the very first entry, it was RE2 that got me completely hooked.

In terms of non-Nintendo platforms, 1998 brought back Solid Snake in what many argue to be his greatest mission of all time with Metal Gear Solid. That Psycho Mantis fight was something else, right? Valve also made significant waves with Half-Life, a game that many still consider being one of the very best first-person shooters.

And now let's do a quick-fire round. 1998 also saw classics like Banjo-Kazooie, Spyro the Dragon, Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, Turok 2: Seeds of Evil, F-Zero X, Tekken 3, Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, Grim Fandango, Mario Party, Sonic Adventure, Oddworld: Abe's Exoddus, and 1080° Snowboarding. Go on, see if you can beat that.

2002 - Gonçalo Lopes, Reviewer

Image: Nintendo

Having picked up F-Zero GX upon PAL release day (late October 2003), I hit a little snag: I had no GameCube of my own to play it on, having invested in a PlayStation 2 instead back in 2002. So I left the game at my best friend's house who was a bit more multi-platform and owned both Xbox and GameCube and PS2. The New Year came and went.

Due to a bad case of young love gone wrong on January 2, 2004, I went straight to local retail and picked up an onyx GameCube with a GBA Player combo pack. I had some cash left so I picked up Super Monkey Ball as well, (years before realizing both F-Zero and Monkey Ball titles shared the same game engine).

Soon it was time to expand my collection and pick up all the essential stuff I had been missing out on: Pikmin, Metroid Prime, Resident Evil, Rogue Leader… the list goes on and on. Despite the incredible single-player content, it wasn’t long before GameCube became the de facto console for getting together with my friends. Insane marathons of Super Smash Bros. Melee, NHL Hitz, and WWE Day of Reckoning were soon the norm of the day.

Going back over two decades, it's tricky when so many games had released dates staggered across two different years, but all of those games above minus Prime and F-Zero launched in 2002 in Europe (we had to wait until the following year for Samus).

The GameCube provided me with amazing years, all the way to its final masterpiece Resident Evil 4. While I knew I had stumbled into something special, it didn’t take me long to realize that 2004 was it: “THE” year. Best time of my life... but most of the games I was playing were from 2002. What a line-up, right?

I wish I had appreciated it all even more at the time, both games and friends.

2007 - Gavin Lane, Editor

Image: Nintendo

Look, '94 and '98 and '02 are all fine vintages, no arguments there. But, for me, 2007 was a video gaming nexus from which the modern era spawned.

Starting with Nintendo: Super Mario Galaxy.

I mean, I could probably leave it there. Galaxy is god-tier Nintendo gaming in my book. Following the statement of intent it made with Wii Sports and the Wii the previous year, extricating itself from the hardware specs race of its competitors, Galaxy confirmed that Nintendo could craft deep, incredible game experiences on this very modest yet imaginative home console. Galaxy made it clear that there was no need to worry. Nintendo wasn't doomed; things would be just fine.

Pokémon Diamond & Pearl aside, the rest of the year was relatively quiet on the Nintendo front — not to disparage Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn or, er, Link's Crossbow Training — but when you've got an absolute all-timer on your docket, you don't need anything else. Plus, this year gave us the best available edition of Resident Evil 4, which is still a true statement at the time of publication (just).

And yet 2007 offered so much more, and much of it is now playable on Switch. Portal is another all-time great, but any year that sees the release of The Orange Box is a shoo-in, surely? Would you kindly consider BioShock? How about Crysis, the game that still causes graphics cards the world over to break out into cold sweats?

Rock Band launched in 2007, although it wouldn't come to Wii until the following year. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare would arrive on the Wii two years later, but many gamers took their first steps into an online world with Xbox Live and COD4 on a freshly-released 360 Elite back in 2007 *doffs cap to Captain Price*. Microsoft's 360 also hosted Mass Effect, Crackdown, the first Assassin's Creed (surprised Ubisoft hasn't remade/rebooked that one yet), and Halo 3. When it wasn't red-ringing.

Just so much quality across the gaming spectrum, with the online gaming revolution poised to segue into the indie game era. It was an exciting time full of possibilities and new ideas. Much more than just a year of 'good games'.

So there you have it, those are our picks for the best years in gaming. We reckon each has a fair shot at taking the crown, but we'll leave it to you fine readers to cast the deciding vote. Be sure to take part in the below poll and choose which year you think is the very best, starting from 1985...

Look, there was 'Before Super Mario Bros.' and 'After Super Mario Bros.', right? We're sticking with the latter but feel free to give any BSMB years a shoutout in the comments, and also give context behind your vote. Let us know exactly what makes your choice the very best!

What's the best year in gaming?