The ’90s were a golden age for video games, bringing forth a flood of games to the market that, to this day, are considered some of the best of all time. Adults and kids alike played these games with varying degrees of frustration and satisfaction. Everyone remembers the feeling of winning a Mario Kart race with their friends or family. Who could forget making their way through Hyrule in an epic quest to save the princess? How they felt when they finally defeated Sephiroth?
This is a list of the top fifteen games of the ’90s that absorbed countless hours of our lives when they graced our existences. It also doubles as an homage to the stories they told that brought us joy and enriched our lives. It is a nod to those who brought us these games as well as a reminder of where our gaming roots truly lie, lest we forget.
15. Super Mario World (1990)
Who could possibly forget this absolutely iconic game that kicked off the 1990s? This is also the game where everyone’s favorite cold-blooded hero, Yoshi, got his start. There were so many things that Nintendo did right with this game that it seemed a little advanced for its time. The graphics alone far surpassed almost everything in the 1980s. Even the size of the game was large enough that it took most players a few saves to get to the end. The difficulty level was demanding enough to make you want to throw your television through a window, but rewarding enough to keep you coming back for more. While almost everyone who ever picked up a controller in the ’90s can say they’ve played the game, there are a select few who have the honor of actually beating it. Can you?
14. Battletoads (1991)
Still considered hands down one of the most difficult games to come out of the era. Some even claim that it remains the most difficult game to beat out of any other published title. It was not only difficult, it was also quite popular. So popular, in fact, that it actually had its own spin-off cartoon series. In the show, three teenagers become anthropomorphic toads with superhuman strength, charged with protecting Professor T-Bird and Princess Angelica from the machinations of the evil Dark Queen. There is a petition right now that is attempting to bring the game back in full HD quality, and Forbes even chimed in to say that this five-game series needs to be brought “back from the dead.” If you haven’t played Battletoads, and you’d like to spend a night of hitting ’90s thugs with giant amphibi-fists, give this one a try.
13. Toejam & Earl (1991)
Never has there been a game quite like Toejam and Earl. Two wacky alien rappers who arrive on Earth by crash-landing and attempt to find pieces of their downed spacecraft. The game was one of the first rogue-like games, using randomly generated levels and items. No Man’s Sky is programmed in a similar manner, but to compare the two games any further would be an insult to Toejam And Earl. This game is also full of ’80s and ’90s nostalgia, making references and parodies to the culture of the time. At the time of release, this game did not pull high numbers, but over time the game became a sleeper hit, and the crude alien chums became one of Sega’s coolest mascots. You can find a remastering of the game on Xbox and Playstation, and rumor has it they’re going to do a full sequel on modern consoles, soon.
12. Diablo (1996)
The original Diablo was and still remains one of the most cherished PC games of the ’90s, or any other time. The love affair many gamers had for Diablo came as a result for a much-needed hack-and-slash title, and Blizzard served it up as a multi-player god among games. Diablo was randomly generated, which ensured that every time you plugged into the game, it gave you a new experience. No gamer will forget the feeling they got from finding their first badass piece of equipment, or downing the Butcher for the first time. Some of the best items were found in a secret level, where cow warriors would kick your butt into oblivion if you weren’t careful. With many sequels, the original game is often duplicated, but will never be outdone.
11. Ecco The Dolphin (1992)
This game has a plot that struck the heartstrings of every player who dared to tread the waters of this title. You play as Ecco, a dolphin who has been separated from his pod by some kind of unearthly event. You must travel an ocean thrown into chaos in search of your kidnapped family. You meet new friends, and battle powerful enemies. Ecco finds that he must travel through time to the lost city of Atlantis in order to help the oldest creature on Earth, the Asterite, and learn from it the power to take on the Vortex Queen and save his pod. In spite of the over-the-top plot, Ecco the Dolphin still manages to stir the emotions of those who played it. Because of this, Ecco The Dolphin earns a spot as one of the best games of the ’90s.
10. Tony Hawk Pro Skater (1999)
Using his debut in the X-Games as a springboard for more entrepreneurial endeavors, Tony Hawk secured himself as a household name and forever brought skateboarding into mainstream culture with Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater. Originally released for the Playstation X, Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater has enjoyed ten big titles, five spin-offs and four ports. The goal of the game was simple. Perform the right tricks at the right place and time. It seems simple, but it can sometimes be anything but. Pro Skater not only features some of the biggest names in skateboarding and beyond, but even the original title features a soundtrack full of favorites by bands like The Dead Kennedys, Primus and the Vandals. The game was also critically acclaimed, having been given a 9.1 out of 10 by IGN. I still remember my first Darkslide. What was your first trick in this game?
9. Aladdin (1992)
When a movie is made into a video game, it is a crapshoot as to whether or not that game will be worth buying or sent into the trash heap like the infamous Atari burial of their E.T. title. Aladdin turned out to be one of the greatest games of the ’90s, and was voted best game of 1993 by Electronic Gaming Monthly. It sold over four million copies, becoming the third best selling game after Sonic The Hedgehog and Sonic The Hedgehog 2. The game follows the plot of Disney’s Aladdin movie, and allowed players to become a part of the action. In typical ’80s and ’90s gaming fashion, Aladdin is still considered one of the most difficult games to have ever been made. Did you beat it?
8. Gunstar Heroes (1993)
One of the best platform shooter games to come out of the ’90s was Gunstar Heroes for the Sega Genesis. This game was dubbed by Electronic Gaming Monthly as the best action game of 1993. Retro Gamer frequently praised the game, and aptly describes the game as having “outstanding visuals,” and anyone that has played the game is likely to agree. It’s on Game Gear‘s top ten, as well. All published praise aside, this game is hands down one of the best action platform games ever released. It features Gunstar Red and Gunstar Blue as they battle Golden Silver, an evil robot capable of godlike feats of destruction. One of the best features is the ability to combine ten different guns to make an astounding number of complex weapons to use in your quest. If you haven’t played Gunstar Heroes, what are you waiting for?
7. Super Metroid (1994)
Super Metroid is an action-packed game that spans the gamut of labels from action platformer to RPG and beyond. It follows Samus Aran, the most beautiful space bounty hunter ever, in the pursuit of an alien Metroid larva that was stolen by a space pirate named Ridley. The game was critically acclaimed and is considered to be one of the absolute best video games of all time. Even though it seems to fit into both action and RPG styles, the game itself is focused on exploration, and completion of the game includes a percentage of the map that has been explored. While exploring, you gain access to new weapons and power ups that allow you to explore more of the map and take on new enemies. Do you remember when you first realized that Samus was a girl?
6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – Turtles In Time (1991)
Originally a best selling arcade title, Turtles In Time became the game that really allowed the Ninja Turtles to really come out of their shell. Although technically the Super Nintendo version of the game is merely a remake of the arcade version, it is a decided improvement in all aspects of the game. In Turtles In Time, we follow Donatello, Michaelangelo, Raphael and their leader Leonardo as they witness Shredder taking over New York’s airwaves and stealing the Statue of Liberty. When the turtles make a move to stop him, they are sent through a time warp and must deal with Shredder’s goons in the past, present and future in order to stop the villain and get back home. There are a lot of great games in the TMNT line, but this one is truly one of the greats.
5. Mortal Kombat (1995)
Who could possibly forget Mortal Kombat? Many a day has been spent at a friend’s house or with your friends at your own house, working on combinations of moves and trying to figure out which buttons to push to FINISH HIM! Parents hated the game, and lobbied against its liberal use of blood and excessive violence, but players of the game argued that the violence was what made the game truly great. There was nothing quite like landing that uppercut and sending your opponent flying with a spray of red blood, or pulling your opponent’s head off his body, leaving his spine dangling in the air! To this day, parent lobbies have failed, and the game has seen a total of twenty-one titles and counting. What is your favorite finishing move?
4. Chrono Trigger (1995)
Originally released for the Super Nintendo, Chrono Trigger remains to this day one of the best RPG games of all time, and is critically acclaimed as one of the best video games of all time. You play as Chrono, an adventurous young man who is thrown into a plot that threatens the whole world. Traveling through time, Chrono is accompanied by friends and allies he meets along the way. This game showed a lot of creativity and plot twist as well, allowing you to make allies from enemies. There is even a time in the game where what you do is unexpectedly used as a plot point against you later on, which was a first of any game of its kind. What other game can pull together a neanderthal warrior, a robot sentry, ancient vampire and cursed knight all in one game? Chrono Trigger does.
3. Super Mario Kart (1992)
Super Mario Bros. may have had the honor of being the first game anyone played in the Nintendo Entertainment System, but there is no other game that brought together as many friends and family members around a television in friendly competition than Mario Kart. Pick your favorite Super Mario character, and race against your friends and the CPU to win! No holds barred. Watch out for banana peels and turtle shells! Not only was the game a commercial success it also received critical acclaim and earned a place as the Player’s Choice after selling over one million copes and the title went on to sell over nine million! Super Mario Kart remains one of the greatest games ever made, and continues to leave a long-lasting legacy in any game that seeks to emulate the style.
2. Final Fantasy VII (1997)
No other series pulls at the heartstrings and keeps players in rapt attention than the Final Fantasy games. And none of them are as beloved as Final Fantasy VII. For some, this game was the first that actually caused its players to feel sad, and there is no shortage of people who said they actually cried at one of the major plot twists of the game. Within the game, you play as Cloud Strife, a soldier-gone-mercenary who must face off against his best friend and fellow patriot, Sephiroth, in order to save Gaia from the predations of the Shinra Corporation, who threatens to destroy every living thing. This game was so popular that it spawned a beloved movie called Advent Children. How many hours did you spend playing Final Fantasy VII?
1. The Legend Of Zelda – A Link To The Past (1991)
Known in Japan as “Triforce of the Gods,” The Legend of Zelda – A Link To The Past is the third installment of The Legend of Zelda series. It was a logical progression from the popular first and second NES games, and features some of the best graphics an action RPG of its kind could have asked for. Unknown to most, it saw a sequel to the plot line in 2013 called A Link Between Worlds. This game sucked up an incalculable number of hours out of kids and adults alike, and even today the game is still picked up not just for its nostalgia, but also for its gameplay. How many of you remember the first time you found your uncle in that hallway? It’s dangerous to go alone!