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'Back to the Future' Was Cool, but 1985 Was an Amazing Year for Video Games

The beginning of the console wars, the release of the original "Super Mario Bros.," home computing changing forever with the Amiga. 1985 was big.

by Mike Diver
Oct 21 2015, 5:00pm

Artwork from 'Super Mario Bros.'

Let me tell you a little about the culture of 1985. It was, mostly, shit. On TV, both EastEnders and Neighbours started. In music, dick-dipping, cock-rock douchebags Guns N' Roses formed, likewise—and this might surprise you—the miserable posh-experimentalist bastards who make up Radiohead. At the box office, two of the top three movies of the year starred Sylvester shitting Stallone, Rambo: First Blood Part II and Rocky IV. The highest-grossing film was Back to the Future, which has some relevance to today's Twitter trends. Back to the Future was pretty good. Its sequel, too, though the third film, nah.

Video gaming, however, was completely awesome in 1985. Important stuff happened, loads of it. Here's just some of it.

A 1985 television advert for the NES

The Console Wars Kicked Off

Nintendo's Famicom—its "family computer"—had been a hit in its homeland of Japan since 1983, and 1985 saw the company up its international focus considerably by remodeling their 8bit system for a stateside release. This boxy, gray, entirely iconic machine, the Nintendo Entertainment System—sold not as a toy but a family entertainment product—reached American customers for the first time in October '85. Five years later, 30 percent of US homes would have one, and the console would be celebrated as a vital player in reversing the games industry's economic crash of the early 1980s.

SEGA, in contrast, was more obviously focused on the arcade market in the mid-1980s. But its heated home gaming rivalry with Nintendo, the root of a thousand arguments every hour of every day around the developed world at the time, would begin in 1985 with the release of its Mark III system in Japan. Created to be a direct competitor to the Famicom, for its international campaign the Mark III was remolded into the Master System. It reached Europe in 1987, ultimately outselling Nintendo's alternative in the EU, but SEGA wouldn't gain a satisfactory foothold in the States until the introduction of the Genesis in the summer of 1989.

Until Sony's scene-changing PlayStation came along, the console of choice beneath any TV in the 1980s and early 1990s would be either a Nintendo or SEGA, and rarely would owners of one machine see the positives of the other. Magazines and marketers regularly attacked the opposition, and the console wars were upon us: forged in the competitive flames of 1985 and unlikely to ever be extinguished, as new players have risen to enter the game while others, notably SEGA, have fallen away.

Ryo plays 'Hang-On' and 'Space Harrier' in the 1999 Dreamcast game 'Shenmue'

SEGA's Arcade Games Were Fantastic, Though

Hang-On and Space Harrier landed in arcades in 1985, and proceeded to quaff quarters like fat kids do doughnuts. There were a handful of other notable arcade releases the same year, like the blueprint-forming shooter Gradius from Konami and Atari's Paperboy and Gauntlet, both of which would enjoy a number of solid home-system ports. But few featured a full-enough-size motorbike that you sat on and leaned left to right while you played. Hang-On did, so Hang-On won. Fourteen years later, designer Yu Suzuki put a fully operational Hang-On cab in his Dreamcast adventure Shenmue. Not quite the same, but less likely to leave you with aching balls.

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'Moonstone' was gratuitously gory, but I can't say my parents seemed to mind

The Amiga Came Out

If you had a computer in your house in the late 1980s into the early 1990s, there's a very strong chance that it was a Commodore Amiga. At the very least, loads of my mates had one. Numerous models were released between the series' launch in 1985 with the Amiga 1000 and its official discontinuation in 1996, with the most popular undeniably the 500, selling as many as 6 million units worldwide. We had a 500 at home, and later a 1200. I'm sure that our first was picked up because of its homework potential, but the Amiga for many was first and foremost a gaming machine, host to countless absolute classics of the 16bit era, some of which never made the move to consoles (or if they did, they weren't as good). Speedball 2, The Chaos Engine, Lemmings, Sensible Soccer, Moonstone, The Secret of Monkey Island, Cannon Fodder, Turrican II, Alien Breed, Populous, Syndicate. Sod it, I'll throw in Deluxe Paint II, given the hours I spent staring at it. The Amiga is the bedrock of my gaming identity, more so than any console. Cheers, dad.

'Super Mario Bros.,' Level 1-1

'Super Mario Bros.' Changed the Gaming World as We Know It

The greatest video game in the whole damn world, possibly. Depends who you ask. Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. of 1985 was certainly the biggest-selling game for many years, not beaten in terms of units shifted until 2008 (it's currently the fifth highest-selling game of all time). Research conducted at VICE's London office has shown that today's gamers can struggle to even finish Level 1-1. Losers. Nevertheless, better to die repeatedly at the (no) hands of a goomba grunt than be made to sit through the movie adaptation.

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A single-credit clearance of 'Yie Ar Kung-Fu'

Konami Effectively Defined the Fighting Game Genre

You're forgiven for having never heard of Yie Ar Kung-Fu, but without this one-on-one fighting game from Konami, it might be that we never got Street Fighter II, or Mortal Kombat, or Eternal Champions. (Shut up, Eternal Champions was terrific.) Hitting arcades in January 1985 and moving to European home computers come the autumn, ultimately becoming the second-biggest seller of 1986 across all formats in the UK, Yie Ar challenged the player to overcome a series of foes, each of whom has a style entirely their own, with unique moves and the occasional projectile. Sounds pretty familiar, doesn't it; yet before Yie Ar, gaming didn't really have a title in what we now consider the Street Fighter mold (Capcom's fighter didn't debut until 1987). There was Karate Champ, apparently, but I don't remember seeing it around at the time. Yie Ar, though, felt like it was everywhere, infectious and hugely inspirational. There's probably a Spectrum copy in your parents' loft.

Fifteen different screens, you say?

The ColecoVision Died

It was probably for the best. I mean, that controller, honestly. What were these people smoking?

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