When was the golden era for Amiga gaming?

Aside from giving you a creative edge, the Amiga was (and is) a fantastic games machine. This isn’t up for dispute – certainly around these parts – but what does come up for debate on a regular basis is quite when it reached its peak as a gaming behemoth. In an effort to answer this (or stir up even more debate/trouble), I decided to do a little lightweight analysis using some stats at hand.

The method

So how am I gauging the peak? Firstly, we need to consider the ‘when’. The ‘classical period’ of the Amiga is generally considered to be from the release of the Amiga 1000 in 1985 right through when the last Amiga 1200 was sold in 1996/1997, so this is where I will be concentrating my investigation. As an  indicator for what represents the gaming peak, I am using ‘the period when the highest number of ‘popular’ games were released’. And the source of our data for this analysis will be the respected Amiga database/review site Lemon Amiga

Caveat

Before we get started, I’m going to drop a huge caveat here. All reviews on Lemon are user reviews. That ranges from professional objective reviewers through to people who are just dropping 1s on their hated games and 10s on their favourites. Objectivity cannot be guaranteed or expected here, but we can at least hope that the law of averages will smooth out the rough patches in a large enough data set.

Look, I appreciate that this isn’t going to perfect by a long shot, but it’s the best we’ve got I feel. I could go back to the magazines of the era, but that has its own problems as I’m sure we’re all aware. Plus it would take a lot more time to pull together!

Note: For each chart below, I have provided the criteria used to create them (hover over the graph to see). Please take the information within the context of the sample set!

The golden era

So what is our data telling us about the golden era of Amiga gaming? And how does this compare to our own memories of years gone by?

Graph showing the golden age of Amiga gaming

 We can see from the graph above that there is a clear spike in popular games between 1991 and 1993, 1991 having the other years beat with 19 titles released. Over half of the popular titles were released in this 3 year period. I’ll also give 1989 an honourable mention pulling an admirable 12 titles out of the hat.

I don’t think this is a result that will surprise a lot of people – this 3 year period (maybe slipping a little further into 1990) is frequently cited as being the time when the Amiga was at its best. The numbers would seem to agree with this. The figures for 1996 and 1997 – when the Amiga was languishing with all the issues around finances and ownership – speak for themselves.

In case you were wondering, here’s the high-flying titles that were released in that peak period – I’m sure you’ll see a few named you’ll recognise:

1991 1992 1993
Another World Alien Breed SE Cannon Fodder
Cruise for a Corpse Apidya Desert Strike
Dyna Blaster Civilization Dune 2: The Battle for Arrakis
Eye of the Beholder Dune Flashback
Formula One Grand Prix Eye of the Beholder II Frontier: Elite II
Hunter Lure of the Temptress Hired Guns
Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
Lemmings Pinball Dreams Lemmings 2: The Tribes
Lotus Turbo Challenge 2 Pinball Fantasies Lionheart
Mega Lo Mania Sensible Soccer 1.0 Qwak
Moonstone Sensible Soccer 1.1 Simon the Sorcerer
Populous II Shadow of the Beast III Stardust
Prince of Persia   Superfrog
Rodland   Syndicate
Secret of Monkey Island   The Chaos Engine
Super Cars II   The Lost Vikings
SWIV   The Settlers
The First Samurai   Yo! Joe!
Turrican II: The Final Fight    

Remember – these aren’t the best Amiga games ever released, they’re just the most popular ones that were released together!

The other side of the coin

I thought it would be interesting to see the other extreme as well – when were the worst games released? This actually proved to be much more difficult to establish, and I have less confidence in the information presented below. While there are a wealth of opinions on the cream of the crop, people are just less likely to write a review for a game they don’t like. So just looking for games with a large number of votes and a low score won’t cut it – bad games don’t often have reviews numbering in the hundreds. With that in mind here’s what the data showed:

Graph showing when the worst Amiga games were released

It should be noted that nothing in this sample set scored more than 2.4 on Lemon Amiga. So we really are looking at the bottom of the barrel here! 1989 is the clear… winner(?)… here, with 13 titles in the bottom 100, but there’s a much broad peak to look at, spanning from 1987 to 1991. I think the earlier years can probably be put down to the quality of software in the Amiga’s formative years – there were a lot of 8-bit ports and a lot of lazy Atari ST ports before the Amiga truly hit its stride. 1990 and 1991 are less easy to explain, especially since they feature in the ‘golden’ list as well. We may be able to attribute this to the fact a lot of games were coming out in this period of all levels of quality, but it may be truer to say that for any successful system, there will be an amount of shovelware chucked out to try and ride the wave while it is cresting.

The pinch of salt

Like I said coming into this article – this is not a science and you should take it with a huge pinch of salt. It’s a hugely subjective topic too – we’re looking at things through the lens of the past and also with the fickle aspects of popular opinion. One person’s wonder years could be another’s mediocre moment. In the end, this is just an interesting thought experiment, it doesn’t really matter!

Further reading

If you would like to do your own analysis, head to Lemon Amiga, specifically the Best and Worst lists. Maybe leave a review or two while you’re there!

What were your favourite years of Amiga gaming? When did the games you cherish get released? Pop it in the comments below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

9 thoughts on “When was the golden era for Amiga gaming?

  • September 11, 2020 at 4:15 pm
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    Ordinarily, the golden era of any system coincides with the era the most games were produced in–the cream just rises to the top. Nice investigative reporting Pix! Lemon may not be perfect, but it’s all we’ve got!

  • September 11, 2020 at 9:20 pm
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    Great idea! Thanks Pixel.

    I would love to also see this data in point cloud form with individual games positioned by (year, score) on a 2D chart.

  • September 15, 2020 at 11:59 am
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    I wonder if even though there was a greater number of popular titles during the shown time period if the very best loved titles came further towards the end of the machines lifespan? As the developers better got to grips with what it could do. You tend to see the most impressive console games towards the end of its run, is that true for the Amiga?

    • September 29, 2020 at 12:46 am
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      I would say that is majority true, as many of the early Amiga games were quick ports of ST and in worst case, PC games.

    • October 25, 2020 at 9:33 pm
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      I think that phenomenon was definitely visible on the Amiga as well.
      Many (but not necessarily most!) of the late Amiga titles on Pixel’s most popular 100 list are quite technically impressive:
      – Ruff’n Tumble (1994)
      – LionHeart, Super Stardust, Turrican 3, Alien Breed 3, Project X Special Edition (1993)
      – Alien Breed Special Edition, Apidya, Lotus III (1992)

      However, they are not necessarily the best as far as gameplay is concerned. This said, globally, the games in the above list are not too bad.
      But you can still find quite a few very technically impressive games in earlier years as well:
      – Turrican 2, Another World, Lotus 2 Turbo Challenge, Moonstone, Hunter, SWIV, Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker, First Samurai, Leander (1991)
      – Speedball 2, Lotus Turbo Esprit Challenge, Turrican, Pang (1990)
      – Stunt Car Racer, Hybris, Battle Squadron, Silk Worm (1989)

      And actually, it looks like the curve for popular and technically very competent games is shifted one year earlier compared to that of popular ones alone. This is not surprising though since technical competence has no relation to gameplay. 😉

  • September 28, 2020 at 10:53 pm
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    For me it was 89-94 I saw the Amiga start to pull away from the ST with more and more games that were obviously better than the ST could do. The PC still couldn’t do a decent arcade game, without having a massively powerful system that cost as much as a car. In 92 AGA was released that while not a massive upgrade in itself it, was an upgrade that was needed. With an fast 030 or any 040 it was an absolute beast of a system that ran Mac software faster than a Mac (and opened up a new library of software, if you were into that thing), and emulated others (inc PC if you were into self hatred) and best of all while a majority of the best Amiga games were released the best applications were also released (I still use some of them when I want to get away from the noise of the PC) there was a lot of best’s in than last part but I guess that because that’s when the Amiga was at its BEST!

  • November 1, 2020 at 3:40 pm
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    I remember the feeling of when the Amiga was about to be bested; seeing the PC reviews for Wing Commander and Indy 500, and when it was at the height of its power with titles like Xenon 2: Megablast.

    One of my best Amiga memories was in ’89. My parents were selling their house, an estate agent was showing a couple round the house. I was a kid sitting crosslegged on the floor in the lounge playing Batman: The Movie and was on the Batmobile level with that pumping music, screaming down the streets at a million miles an hour, through the air over jumps and that sweet ‘ping’ sound when the batrope connects to a lamp-post & swings your car into the next street. It went silent in the house and I looked around from the TV, the agent was standing there silent, open-mouthed at the screen with the couple behind him. I kinda like to think he had to go out and buy an Amiga shortly after!

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