If you’re like me, most likely you look back on the ’90s as a special time. Kids born in the ’90s went through a weird phase of not knowing what it was like having a computer in the home, listening to music on cassette tapes, and vintage gaming, to quickly experiencing computers in the home as a regular appliance, which evolved into CD’s, MP3’s and Candy Crush. We somehow went through it all in the span of 15 years. When technology quickly evolved, so did video games. The ’90s provided a lot of amazing video games so we looked back fondly and created a list of the top video games from the era. Some of you might agree and some will disagree, but it’s important to recognize that the ’90s were an awesome era for all of us gamers and you’re free to make your own list or post which games you think we’ve missed below. Have fun
Super Mario World (1990)
Super Mario World was the launch title for the Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems. It was a colorful adventure full of imaginative levels, secrets, easter eggs and some of the best platforming in gaming. It was a classic tale of Mario versus Bowser in their fight for Princess Peach’s affection. What made this game so special was a combination of level design, soundtrack and colorful artwork on the new SNES which could support Nintendo’s new 32-bit artwork. Super Mario World was the full package and still holds up today as one of the greatest games thanks to the ’90s.
The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past (1991)
The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past is regarded by many as the best Zelda game of all time, if not one of the best video games of all time. Nintendo introduced Link into the 32-bit era by making use of bright, vibrant colors, cute and cuddly characters and an epic hero’s journey to brag to your friends about. It’s a game that’s always much bigger and longer than I remember and still holds up to this day. It was a creative puzzle solver, a battle, an epic journey and overall A Link To The Past is one of the best from the era.
Sonic The Hedgehog (1991)
Sonic The Hedgehog was the first game I ever played, so I may be biased when I say it’s iconic. Sonic first introduced us to “Mario Killer”, the “Blue Blur” himself, Sonic the Hedgehog and his nemesis the evil Dr. Robotnik. Sega created Sonic to be everything that Mario wasn’t – edgy, full of attitude and fast. That’s what was so special about Sonic The Hedgehog, it made speed a focus on a 2D console, and at the time it was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, game designers have failed to bring Sonic into the modern era of gaming but as we speedily raced through each level, so did we race through the ’90s with Sega to thank for a classic game and one of the most iconic video game characters of all time.
Mortal Kombat (1992)
Mortal Kombat released in 1992 and changed the world, and gaming, forever. In some cases, that might not be such a good thing. Controversy aside, Mortal Kombat perfected the fighting genre that was already paved by the likes of Street Fighter. It’s use of more realistic artwork, individual characters, and fighting styles, as well as gruesome finishers, made it stand out from the pack. In some cases, it’s gruesome finishers made it stand out for all the wrong reasons. Each year the media seems to find a game or incident to bring up violence in video games and Mortal Kombat was patient zero. Despite the violent beheading finishers, it quickly became the best selling game, spawned numerous sequels and became an awesome movie that came out in 1995, making it one of the greatest gifts from the ’90s.
To say Doom was significant in gaming history might be a bit of an understatement and it’s often touted as one of the greatest games of all time. It was action-packed, it was bloody and gory, and introduced us to Doomguy, a badass mfer who don’t take no crap from no demons. Doom defined first-per-shooters for years and inspired countless titles like Halo, Turok, Halflife, System Shock (and BioShock) as well as many many others. Doom was an easy choice for the best 90’s video games.
Super Metroid (1994)
Super Metroid was the third installment into the adventure of Samus Aran, the legendary bounty hunter. Super Metroid was a super polished Metroid game that built on what the first two games had done. Nintendo brought all her old abilities and added new powerful abilities to make Samus the ultimate bounty hunter by the end of the game. The game provided one of the best run-and-gun games and with inspirational level designs that gamers and game designers have ever had the pleasure to play. It was the game that really put Samus on the map, launching her to becoming one of the most legendary video game characters ever.
Donkey Kong Country (1994)
Little known fact, Donkey Kong Country was the game that saved the Nintendo Entertainment System. By 1994, Nintendo had fought an entire war against the likes of Sega and Sonic The Hedgehog. Nintendo needed a game to bring gamers back and establish themselves as the dominant player in the games industry. Donkey Kong Country hit the scene with graphics gamers had never seen before and a soundtrack like no other. Nintendo certainly wasn’t monkeying around. Playing as Donkey Kong and Diddy Kong in a side-scrolling adventure, players were determined to collect all their stolen bananas from the evil King K Rool. It was a graphically revolutionary game that hits us older gamers right in the feels and could very well be why Nintendo is still around to this day.
Warcraft 1 & 2 (1994 – 1995)
While not the first real-time-strategy game to hit the market, Blizzard’s Warcraft innovated the game design of what a polished RTS should be, all while pushing the boundaries of online multiplayer. While Warcraft: Orcs & Humans received a rather cooler reception than its predecessor, it’s hard not to include it on this list as the game that started it all. However, Warcraft 2: Tides Of Darkness was a huge success that truly improved upon what Blizzard had already done. The game was speedier, included much more depth and improved on its artificial intelligence. The ’90s was the era that brought us to Azeroth for the very first time and that makes Warcraft one of the best games of the decade.
Pokemon Red & Blue (1996)
They say Pokemon is Japan’s greatest export. Or, at least someone said that at one point in time but it doesn’t seem too far off from the truth. Pokemon Red & Blue introduced us to an RPG that was exciting enough for adults and easy enough for children. Accompanied by an anime, a trading card game and being lead by an extremely lovable electric mouse named Pikachu, it quickly spread like wildfire throughout the ’90s and still burns today. While it plays like a classic JRPG, Pokemon Red & Blue had a charming and adventurous personality to it allowing players to capture over 150(ish) different cute creatures. That really set it apart from other JRPGs. It gave players the agency and empowerment to truly customize their own team on their way to becoming Kanto’s Pokemon Champion is one of the greatest video games of the ’90s and maybe ever.
Super Mario 64 (1996)
At this time in the ’90s, Super Mario was THE hero platformer before hero platformers were a thing. In fact, his original name, Mr. Videogame, is a very fitting title when looking back on his impact on video games moving forward. With that being said, Super Mario 64 did what most Nintendo Games did in the mid-’90s; it took advantage of the new 3D technology in order to create a hugely immersive platforming experience. Bowser had never looked more real, players have never felt closer to the Mushroom Kingdom and Mario had a voice! (Cue the instant mental echoes of WOO, WOOHOO, YIPEEE as Mario jumped through the air). This classic title brought Mario to life in a brand new way with a classic character that inspired so many other games and characters. That’s why it makes our list of top ’90s games.
Mario Kart 64 (1996)
The ’90s introduced gamers to some of the best multiplayer games of all time, with Mario Kart 64 near the front of the pack. It’s a classic racing game with imaginative tracks, epic battles, and classic Nintendo characters. I don’t know about you, but Yoshi was my main when it came to Mario Kart 64. Not entirely sure why he just always felt faster than everyone else. While the game’s classic single-player racing mode was fun, the real treat was plugging in all four controllers and seeing what Mario Kart 64 was really about; competitive multiplayer. Sending your friends over the edge into some lava to eliminate one of their balloons was, as most 90’s kids probably remember, one of the best feelings ever.
Resident Evil (1996)
Resident Evil was the first horror game I, and many gamers had ever played. It was the first game in the long (un)living Resident Evil series it introduced gamers to a lot of systems and concepts they’d be getting used to for the coming years including inventory management, stressful puzzle-solving and a very unique camera system that always made you feel like something was lurking just around the corner, one of the strengths of the newest Resident Evil 7: Biohazard. It’s a game series that’s spawned many movies and many nightmares and certainly makes our list as one of the best from that generation.
Crash Bandicoot (1996)
The lovechild of Sony and Naughty Dog, Crash Bandicoot… well, crashed onto the scene in 1996 as Sony’s answer to Super Mario 64. While Sony insisted the two shouldn’t be compared, we in video games always love to compare everything to Super Mario no matter what the game is. While Crash hasn’t been around for a while, only newly re-introduced to gamers through a series of remasters, Crash became the mascot for Sony throughout the early 2000s and was named one of the most iconic characters by us!
Diablo was simply one of the most addictive games to hit the market at the time and is still one of the most addictive games. It was an action-adventure RPG like no other. Players got to choose between playing as a warrior, rogue and the sorcerer which provided different play styles that most RPG fans can figure out. Diablo provided players with amazing variety of playstyles, monster varieties and item varieties that made exploring, killing and pushing forward so exciting. Not to mention you were on a journey to kill the devil himself which is pretty damn epic and one of the best games to come out of the decade.
GoldenEye 007 (1997)
We mention that Mario Kart 64 was near the front of the pack for multiplayer games in the ’90s, well GoldenEye 007 was at the very front of the pack. GoldenEye 007 was a James Bond game developed by Rare. It was a beautifully designed shooter and may have set the gold standard for multiplayer games for years to come. When most gamers (above a certain age) think about the standard for split-screen multiplayer shooters, it’s hard not to think about how much fun we all had fighting for the Golden Gun, using cheat codes to give our characters giant heads, and finding all the hidden passages in each level. GoldenEye 007 was a golden game from the golden age of video games.
Final Fantasy 7 (1997)
Final Fantasy 7 is lauded by gamers as one of the best games in the Final Fantasy series and, by some gamers, considered one of the best games ever. It spawned movies and anime specials and both Cloud and Sephiroth made our most iconic video game characters list. For its time, it set the bar for what a console game could be and even took 3 CDs and 49 hours of adventuring to complete. Cloud and Sephiroth were badass, the gameplay became unique with the introduction of “limit breaks” and the game itself was graphically advanced for its time. It was the epitome of gaming in the ’90s which is why it makes our list of top games.
The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time (1998)
What 90’s kid hasn’t cited The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time as one of the greatest video games of all time? Whether you agree or disagree, I think we can all agree that it’s at least one of the greatest 90’s games. Nintendo imagined the first Zelda game in 3D, taking everything that makes Zelda games special, from epic boss battles and intricate dungeon designs, and amplifying it in a 3D space complete with a great story… what more could a 90’s kid ask for?
The late 90’s early 2000’s was the era for platforming heroes. Banjo Kazooie, Conkers Bad Fur Day, Super Mario and of course, Spyro the Dragon. While the story was nothing special, what separated Spyro from other platformers was his ability to fly and breathe fire. Also, he was a purple dragon which was pretty original. Back in 1998, gamers were still getting used to both 3D graphics the new physics behind the PlayStation. So flying was pretty new and interesting to gamers and made playing through Spyro a pretty memorable ’90s experience.
Banjo Kazooie (1998)
Banjo Kazooie was a very charming hero platformer that followed in the footsteps of Super Mario 64. It was a cute 3D platformer developed for the N64 by Rare and frankly had many of the same elements of Super Mario 64. Players played as the bear/bird combo of Banjo & Kazooie as they set out to save Banjo’s sister Tooty from the evil clutches of Gruntilda the Witch. What made Banjo Kazooie so special was its characters and gameplay. Banjo and Kazooie were a lovable duo of the bestest of friends who worked together using both sets of their unique mechanics to save Tooty, making it fun for the whole family and one of the best games of the ’90s.
The ’90s provided one of the greatest generations of video games and among them stands Starcraft, a real-time strategy sci-fi game. Following in the footsteps of Blizzard’s fantasy-based Warcraft, Starcraft pit three races, the Zerg, Terran, and Protoss, against each other. What truly made Starcraft special was that Blizzard gave players entire races to utilize and explore, all with different play styles to master and all the while being balanced and yet different. Starcraft was a true masterpiece and real-time strategy and just another gem provided by the decade. Also, YOU MUST CONSTRUCT ADDITIONAL PYLONS rings through my head at least once a month.
Star Wars Rogue Squadron (1998)
A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, Lucasfilm games actually made some pretty damn good games and released a number of great Star Wars games. Rogue Squadron was a fun, high-flying space-flight simulator where players played as the legendary Luke Skywalker as he battled the empire. I personally hate flight-simulators but Rogue Squadron was fast-paced, fun, and had great flight controls, not to mention tons of secrets and unlockables. Star Wars Rogue Squadron made for an awesome game whether you were into the movies or not and was one of the best games to come out of the ’90s.
Metal Gear Solid (1998)
Metal Gear Solid is the stealth shooter game created by legendary and highly celebrated game designer Hideo Kojima. It’s the series that arguably launched Kojima into stardom and we have him to thank for creating Solid Snake, one of the most iconic video game characters of all time. Metal Gear Solid was Kojima’s ambitious and cinematic plan coming to fruition and arguably launched him into stardom in North America, capturing the attention of gamers left in absolute awe.
Half-Life has often found itself in a tongue in cheek discussion about the elusive third installment which I see as a testament to how good Half-Life 1 and 2 was. Gamers everywhere want more from this legendary series which began in 1998 with Half-Life. A little startup company called Valve decided to make a shooter that, while wasn’t innovative, perfected the FPS genre. Where Half-Life really shined was with its enemies and level design. The enemies were realistic, tough and worked together in order to take you down. A far cry from the stiff cardboard cutout found in most shooters. The world felt like one seamless area with sort load times to create a flow found in only the best-designed video games.
Super Smash Bros (1999)
Super Smash Bros was a complete gamble by Nintendo and one that paid off in great strides. It’s become a mainstay title for Nintendo Consoles and for good reason. On the surface level, Super Smash Bros is an easy to play button masher with all of your favorite Nintendo characters like Mario, Fox, Samus, and Pikachu. Dive deeper into the game and you’ll realize you have a very complex fighting game that can get quite competitive (extremely competitive if you find yourself within my friend group). If you weren’t a fan of Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter back in the day, Super Smash Bros was most likely your jam. It was a mash of all your favorite video game characters in one game beating up on each other and one of the greatest games to come out of the ’90s.
Star Wars Episode 1: Racer (1999)
The ’90s saw a slew of racing games that mostly borrowed (or stole) from the Mario Kart 64 formula. With the release of Star Wars Episode 1: Racer came a new kind of racing game. It was fast-paced, action-packed, full of unlockables and secrets (Lucasfilms was great at those) and took from the best parts of an otherwise not-so-great movie. You could choose your racers, upgrade your pods, race on different planets and above all, feel like you were moving really really fast. At the end of the day, it was a super fun, fast-paced racing game that was arguably better than the movie.
That’s it! Those were some of the greatest games provided by the ’90s. From 1990 to 1999 we got games like A Link To The Past, Ocarina Of Time, Super Mario World, Super Smash Bros. We also got franchises like Mortal Kombat, Half-Life, Pokemon and Warcraft and characters such as Sonic, Pikachu, and Banjo Kazooie. The 90’s arguably produced the greatest generation of games and this is just a small tribute to that time.