This week saw the release of the Wii U, first of the eighth-generation home consoles. Time will tell how it compares to Nintendo’s previous platforms; in the meantime it got us thinking about all the great games of our youth.

You may be surprised to learn many of those games came from the imaginations of Canadian developers ...

8. Evolution (1983)

Evolution is considered the first successful Canadian video game. It featured a novel concept for the early ‘80s, when most games consisted of coloured shapes bumping into different coloured shapes. You begin as an amoeba, eating bacteria to earn points while avoiding germs. Each level presents a new stage of evolution, from amoeba to frog, frog to rodent, rodent to beaver, beaver to monkey, and monkey to human, accomplishing in 10 minutes what took God almost 6,000 years.

Evolution’s final stage is truly the stuff of nightmares, with your human avatar shooting pebbles at green and brown aliens while what sounds like a Skinny Puppy demo track throbs incessantly from your speakers.

7. Boulder Dash (1984)

Boulder Dash was the brainchild of Oakville, Ontario developers Chris Gray and Peter Liepa. Players take the role of intrepid cave explorer Rockford, on leave from his day job as a Los Angeles private eye, as he gathers shiny rocks while trying to avoid being crushed from above by larger, uglier rocks.

Boulder Dash spawned many spin-offs, with the series recently finding new life on portable devices like the iPhone. 

6. Crosscountry Canada (1991)

A staple of school computer labs, Crosscountry Canada combines the fun of sitting still with the exuberance of commercial highway transport. Using complex input commands (e.g. “Start truck”) players travel from coast to coast delivering goods, while dodging hazards of the trucking lifestyle - bad weather, fatigue, “food” bought at gas stations, etc.

The real fun comes in figuring out what’s possible within the game’s text-based interface; you can leave your truck (yet go nowhere), turn on the radio (yet hear only weather reports), access maps (yet essentially travel in a straight line). But for all its crudeness, playing Crosscountry Canada was still the best 12 minutes of the school day.

5. The Need for Speed (1994)

In 1994, video games weren’t exactly known for their realism; the most acclaimed new game of that year involved a sentient half-worm, half-man astronaut dodging flying cows.  

B.C.-based Electronic Arts Canada aimed to make their racing game The Need for Speed as true-to-life as possible. In some ways they threw realism to the wind — where exactly can you cruise down the middle of the road unimpeded at 150 mph? — but got the small details right. Sound design, authentic car models and interior features helped make it one of the most successful racing titles of its time.

4. Shattered Steel (1996)

Shattered Steel was the first game from Edmonton developers BioWare. While the company would become more well-known for its role-playing titles (including the acclaimed Baldur’s Gate and Mass Effect series), their debut was more of the “shoot shit and watch that shit blow up” variety.

The game was notable for its unique visual and sound design, and for letting players use the environment to their advantage. With enough practice weapons could damage or “deform” the ground, creating hiding places or trapping enemies.

3. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (2002)

In Eternal Darkness players initially assume the role of a woman investigating a spooky-ass mansion, eventually taking on several identities in different time periods. To add to the usual player anxiety, developer Silicon Knights introduced a “sanity meter” that depletes as the player encountered more of the paranormal. A lower meter means more intense distortion of the game’s sound and graphics, culminating in a truly mind-blowing (or controller-smashing) midgame cut — a fake “error” screen fooling the player into believing their system has crashed.

While critically praised, Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem was not a commercial hit, perhaps because it spent every moment of gameplay clog-dancing on your subconscious.  

2. Assassin’s Creed series (2007 - )

Ubisoft Montreal’s Assassin's Creed wasn’t a huge critical success, but became a certified sleeper hit upon release, spawning four official sequels and various spin-offs. It has helped make the company one of the largest video game developers in the world. Characters and setting vary through the series, but each entry has retained a focus on stealth over action and agility over brute force.

The cinematic quality of Assassin’s Creed has inspired Ubisoft to make it a future casualty in the quest to make a watchable game-to-movie adaptation. The movie will star Ken Finkleman Michael Fassbender in an unspecified lead role. 

1. Sound Shapes (2012)

The market for music simulators dried up after the release of Guitar Hero: Hootie and the Blowfish, but Toronto’s Queasy Games gave it new life with Sound Shapes.

While not specifically performance-based, the game allows players to interact with a piece of music (with contributions from Deadmau5 and Beck) using more traditional side-scrolling action. When your character touches a specific object onscreen, sound effects add to the music, while environments change according to the rhythm of the track.

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