The top video games of the 1990s were scattered throughout a wide range of genres, demonstrating the best gaming offers at the time. People who grew up during the gaming period of the 1990s witnessed the emergence of 3D games like never before. 3D gaming existed in the 1970s and 1980s, but the refinement shown in the 1990s was astounding. While the 1980s almost bankrupted the gaming business, the 1990s witnessed some of the most financially successful titles.
The 1990s were a time of great excitement for gamers, with some masterpieces published that have endured the test of time and continue to enthrall players today. These games not only transformed the gaming business, but they also set the bar for future games. Although the visuals and gameplay mechanics are out of date by today's standards, the charm, nostalgia, and replay ability of these '90s video games keep them entertaining to this day.
Many popular platformers were released in the 1990s, but not all of them top the list. Some 3D platformers have aged poorly. Modern 3D platformers like Yooka-Laylee can't compete with classics like Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie. Despite this, there are iconic instances of fantastic '90s games from a variety of genres.
1. Sonic The Hedgehog 2 - 1992
This article does not refer to the Sonic the Hedgehog movie sequel developed by Paramount, but to the Sega Genesis game Sonic the Hedgehog 2. This game has been adapted several times due to its replay value. The levels are a near perfect blend of challenge and enjoyment. Sonic the Hedgehog 2 stood out as one of the best video games of the 90s.
After the release of Sonic The Hedgehog 2, many fans of the franchise hoped that Sega would release a game that returned to the classic side-scrolling formula, as 3D games struggled to make an impact. Fans got their wish in 2017 with Sonic Mania, a game published by Sega, developed by a team known for their work on fan games.
2. Crash Bandicoot - 1996
Crash Bandicoot is the first developed by Naughty Dog for the platform owned by Sony. This creates an incredible partnership that will pay off for years to come. It follows the title character, Crash, a thug who runs, jumps and spins through levels in an attempt to defeat his nemesis, Dr. Neo Cortex.
Known for its vibrant graphics, fun gameplay, and challenging difficulty, Crash Bandicoot has been a hit among gamers of all ages. It spawned several sequels and helped create the PlayStation N platform genre. Sane Trilogy is a great way to relive this amazing game and other titles in the series.
3. Tomb Raider - 1996
Lara Croft is one of the most iconic video game characters of all time, and this archeologist's debut was a huge success. Tomb Raider was one of the first games to have a female protagonist, later paving the way for other women to accept leading roles in the game, although the portrayal of most of these characters was somewhat questionable.
A combination of exploration, puzzle solving and third-person shooting, Tomb Raider sets the standard for action-adventure games to come. It has since spawned several sequels, reboots and adaptations, although the future of the franchise is now up in the air following the disappointing sales of Shadow of the Tomb Raider and the sale of its IP to Embracer Group.
4. Diablo - 1997
One of Blizzard's earliest hits, Diablo is a legendary hack and slash game that spawned one of the most popular video game franchises of all time. Set in the fictional kingdom of Khanduras, Diablo follows the player as they enter a dungeon beneath the city of Tristam to battle its eponymous threat.
Its addictive loot-based gameplay still feels good today and shows why Diablo was so popular. It has since spawned several sequels and influenced many games in the hack-and-slash RPG genre, and fans can't wait to see what Diablo 4 brings to the table.
5. Golden Eye 007 – 1997
As mentioned before, most of the games on this list are iconic in their single-player campaigns. However, Golden Eye 007 is fondly remembered for its fantastic multiplayer feature that revolutionized console multiplayer. Gamers of the 90s found a strange joy in fighting their friends to the death.
But multiplayer isn't the only reason gamers love Golden Eye 007. Its single-player campaign delivered a solid 9.5-hour FPS experience. This campaign continues to be relevant in the gaming world due to its popularity among speed runners.
6. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater - 1999
One of the best "sports" games came out in the late 90's with Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. While all subsequent sequels came out in the 2000s, the original THPS was technically a '90s baby, coming in just before the end of the decade. Who knew the series would become such an iconic release today? A cult following has developed over the years, and fan support has even spawned a remake of the original trilogy.
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater was fast, fun and outrageous at times, and had one of the best soundtracks of any video game released at the time. It is a must and luckily, players can experience the glory in the latest way with the recent "update".
7. Gran Turismo - 1997
The 90s was a great time for gaming as many games came out, leading to increased interest in the medium. There are many long-running series that started in the 90s, and Resident Evil, Super Mario, and The Legend of Zelda produce games in modern times. There were also some releases that made strides in certain genres.
A great example of the latter is Gran Turismo, a racing-themed "simulator” that would pave the way for some truly expansive franchises like Forza Motorsport and The Need for Speed.
Fans are hoping for a modern-day comeback for Gran Turismo as it pioneered the so-called racing simulation market with its extensive car roster, deep customization tools and array of real-life racetracks.
8. Resident Evil - 1996
The Resident Evil series recently received its final main series, Resident Evil: Village, which is being praised by fans and critics alike. Village, as well as critically acclaimed entries in the series such as Resident Evil 4 and the Resident Evil 2 remake, differs significantly from the first game. However, they would never have existed without the classic release from 1996.
The original Resident Evil hasn't aged as well as some of the other titles on this list, especially because of its fixed perspective camera. However, it deserves its place on this list due to its incredible influence on the survival horror genre that gamers are still familiar with today.
9. Banjo Kazooie - 1998
After a game that heavily influenced the survival horror genre comes a game that defined the collecting game. Among the many platformers released in the 90s, Banjo-Kazooie stood out with its open levels, which seemed huge in 1998.
Not only were the levels impressive in size, they were also filled with collectibles. Finding tons of collectibles in each level never felt boring. Many of them were hidden in the interesting ones or required players to use recently-learned gameplay mechanics to collect them.
10. DOOM – 1993
DOOM (1993), like GoldenEye 007, pioneered multiplayer gaming. This is thanks to the game's pioneering "Deathmatch mode", the first to use the title Deathmatch, which is still used today.
Multiplayer wasn’t the only thing DOOM affected. It also laid the foundation for the FPS genre in general and paved the way for many "DOOM clones". Wolfenstein 3D may have invented the FPS formula used by DOOM, but this 1993 game perfected and popularized it.
11. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past - 1991
After the critically acclaimed debut of Legend of Zelda, Nintendo made a huge move with the sequel. Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link completely changed its core gameplay. The second game was not considered bad, but many people were unhappy with the sudden change in style.
The next game in the series, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, was released for the SNES in 1991. This game delivered the bigger and better version of the original Legend of Zelda that players had hoped for. A Link to the Past offers players one of Link's most memorable adventures, full of carefully designed dungeons and a memorable over world to explore.
12. StarCraft - 1998
RTS (real-time strategy) games have never looked the same since the release of StarCraft. While many other RTS classics have declined in popularity over time, StarCraft has a large player base that hasn't declined much. Instead of choosing between many races, the developers of StarCraft decided on three: Zerg, Protoss and Terran.
There is a big gap between the skills of professional players and casual players. StarCraft brings RTS gameplay more competitive than ever before. It is a game that requires both micro and macro management. Going into a StarCraft match without a strategy is a deadly move.
13. Donkey Kong 64 - 1999
While Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie were incredible 3D adventures, Donkey Kong 64 took things to the next level by turning its 3D offering into a collectible event, giving players access to a variety of characters with different abilities and allowing them to go back and forth while the wide edition to collect things that are otherwise unavailable.
Thanks to the huge amount of collectibles, this is a true "100%" badge of honor for Donkey Kong 64. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, but it probably helped inspire the vast amount of content and collectibles in today's open-world games. Although players will spend their time collecting everything in Donkey Kong 64, the main game is still great to play and is a must experience for fans of the series.
14. Metal Gear Solid - 1998
Released in 1998, Metal Gear Solid is known for leaps and bounds in the stealth genre. Hideo Kojima directed the game before leaving Konami to found Kojima Productions. Many consider this game to be way ahead of its time due to its technically impressive gameplay. It wouldn't be easy to call Metal Gear Solid one of the best games of all time because it influenced the genre in so many ways. Due to its commercial success, several sequels were developed.
15. Super Metroid - 1994
While the original Nintendo Entertainment System Metroid introduced the characters and set the scene for the game, Super Metroid improved the formula in almost every way. Super Metroid is a masterpiece in every way. Its advanced design was a thought provoking but enjoyable progression. The combat mechanics were advanced for their time. Overall, it's a meatier game than its predecessor, and Super Metroid's boss fights are great.
16. Thief: The Dark Project - 1998
Thief: The Dark Project is a first-person stealth game developed by Looking Glass Studios. It pioneered the stealth genre, where players were encouraged to avoid confrontation and use shadows to avoid detection. With its complex story, innovative game mechanics and immersive level design, Thief has been highly praised for its ability to create atmosphere and tension. It was a landmark that helped create the stealth genre with immersive sim elements, and its legacy can be seen in modern games like Dishonored and Hitman.
17. Final Fantasy 7 - 1997
Heralded for its turn-based battle system, Final Fantasy 7 is more popular than ever thanks to its remake. Fans may have already played the remake, but what about the original? Go back and play the original Final Fantasy 7; the players do not regret the decision. It's a complete package with an engaging story, grueling turn-based combat, and remarkable exploration. Final Fantasy 7 was released in the late 90s and exploited the full power of the Sony PlayStation.
18. Super Mario 64 - 1996
Super Mario 64 is known for its advancements in 3D gameplay. It succeeded at a time where 2D games were standard. Many fans consider Super Mario 64 to be the best video game of the 90s, combining free-flowing movements that opened up a world of possibilities. Levels are intricately detailed with hidden secrets and unlockables, giving the game immense replay value. Players must have lost something in the first round of the game that prompted them to come back for a new adventure.
19. Chrono Trigger - 1995
Chrono Trigger is a game that many consider one of the best RPGs ever made. It follows the story of Crono and his friends as they travel through time to avoid a catastrophic future at the hands of a massive planetoid called Lavos.
It received great praise for its story, characters, and gameplay, including multiple endings and the ability to combine party members' skills in battle. Its innovative design, timeless story and catchy soundtrack cemented its place as a classic of the genre.
20. Half-Life (1998, Valve)
Valve Corporation is a developer that has been recognized for consistently raising the bar with releases. The original Half-Life was first released in 1998 exclusively for PC. The game was later adapted to consoles such as the PlayStation 2 and other computer operating systems such as Linux and OS X.
Half-Life is one of those games that never go out of style. This game revolutionized the genre with its level design and gameplay.
21. Super Mario World - 1990
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System has seen many amazing successes. Super Mario World is considered by many to be one of the best platform games ever. The ability to complete any level in countless ways is what made Super Mario World stand out. It has a significant learning curve, but the core of its enjoyment is overcoming obstacles in Super Mario World.
As usual, Princess Peach plays the damsel in distress as Mario tries to save her. The introduction of the iconic green dinosaur Yoshi was a revolutionary change in the series.
22. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time - 1998
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time offers exploration and boss battles with an engaging story and puzzles that add to the enjoyment of the game. The soundtrack of Ocarina of Time is considered one of the best of all time. It's a game that has a significant cult following and features one of the most recognizable video game characters of all time: Link. Sometimes it's impossible to beat the original.
The debate continues as to whether The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is better than its sequel, The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask. Regardless of personal preference, both games are masterpieces. It was the decade that saw the birth of Sonic the Hedgehog, the original PlayStation, the Nintendo 64 and more - here are the 15 best games from this golden age of gaming.
23. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge - (1991, LucasArts)
Of all LucasArts' memorable and clever adventures — from the dark posthumous comedy Grim Fandango to the surreal Day of the Tentacles — Monkey Island 2 is getting the most love right now, and rightfully so. The puzzles were deliberately hidden on the right side, the characters were quirky and colorful, and the music was unforgettable. And that ending still stirs up debate, 30 years later.
24. Fallout 2 - (1998, Black Isle Studios)
Released before post-apocalyptic settings became tired and boring, the original two Fallout games were brutal, thrilling and brilliantly written visions of humanity's bleak future. When you get out of the vault after the nuke, you'll go into the desert and probably have to kill a giant scorpion right away.
However, you do manage to find other people, and when you're trying to talk, shoot, or sneak out of trouble, you're treated to some of the darkest and funniest dialogue in the game. Few modern RPGs offer as much real flexibility and choice as Fallout 2, although you can always expect the consequences of your actions to catch up with you quickly.
25. Super Mario Kart - (1992, Nintendo)
Mario's first foray into brightly colored platform worlds and behind the wheel of a Microcar brought millions of people the joy of couch multiplayer and sliding on banana peels seconds before the finish line. Despite cheating the AI competitors and some really bad courses based around Bowser's castle, haunted houses and other locations in Mario's main adventures, it always felt like someone had a chance to win, especially if you were blessed with a roulette of items. Mario Kart is still one of the bestselling games in the world for a reason.
26. Street Fighter II - (1992, Capcom)
Released on the SNES in 1992, Street Fighter II made the multiplayer fighting game an absolute staple of the genre, introducing the main Ken, Ryu, and Chun-Li, as well as truly unforgettable attacks in the form of the Hadouken, Dragon Punch, And Spinning Bird Kick.
The sounds, movements and driving styles of this great sequel are burned into the memory banks of every player who was there, keeping the franchise timeless and still alive through 30 years of fighting game development.
27. Sensible World of Soccer - (1994, Sensible Software)
Some think we should be using Speedball 2 (or Cannon Fodder or Worms), but the sequel to the already great Amiga classic Sensible Soccer is widely regarded as one of the greatest soccer games of all time.
The slightly tilted top-down perspective allows for a perfect tactical view of the lightning-fast action, complemented by an excellent control interface that provided a huge amount of contextual moves without the 16 buttons of a Fifa or PES game. Add in thousands of players of varying skill and a complex management mode, and you have a classic sports simulation that's just as playable today.
28. Quake - (1996, ID Software)
See, it was either Doom or Quake - and while Id Software's hellish 1993 Blaster is a landmark in many ways, it brought the sequel with a 3D engine (which gave players new ways to use space - including the famous rocket jump). , support for a new range of 3D graphics cards and, most importantly, robust online multiplayer over the Internet.
It was dark and creepy, with great sound effects and awesome weapons, and lots of ways to play and customize it. It felt like the future.
29. Final Fantasy VII - (1997, Square)
The combination of sweet in-game visuals and CGI sent movies may seem out of place now, but by complementing the foundations of Final Fantasy game design with the cinematic visuals and symphonic CD sound of the PlayStation, Square has set a new high standard for the Japanese Role playing genre.
The story of Cloud and his marauding mercenaries as they battle the ecological destruction wrought by the Shinra Electric Power Company is full of emotion, drama and political resonance that continues to shock and move. There have been better FF games since then, but this was the dawn of the modern JRPG era.
30. Lemmings - (1991)
Lemmings is a puzzle strategy video game originally developed by DMA Design and released by Psygnosis for the Amiga in 1991 and later adapted to many other platforms. A puzzle strategy game with a simple goal: bring a certain number of Lemmings to the exit.
Now this was sometimes easier said than done as the levels got harder and harder and you had to deal with more obstacles to get your green haired friends to safety. This led to some interesting routing with the abilities the game offered, but at the end of the day, the game was always fun, even if you saw a lot of Lemmings meet their untimely demise.