No decade has been more influential in the video game industry than the 1990s. Some of the highest-rated, most iconic games came from this decade, regardless of platform. Sony entered the market with their PlayStation console in the mid-1990s. Even though it didn't arrive on the market until 2001, Microsoft also decided to enter the industry in the 1990s and started developing its first console, the Xbox. As long as a game came out between 1990-1999, it qualifies to be on this list.
1. Super Mario World (1990)
Super Mario World refined the concepts from Super Mario Bros. 3 and took them even further. Super Mario World took the overworld map concept and expanded upon it. New mechanics, such as the ability to fly or execute a Spin Jump, made it so Mario could traverse levels efficiently. Yoshi, Mario's dinosaur pal, also debuted in Super Mario World. Mario's first adventure on the Super Nintendo has 96 exits, some of which lead to secret areas and worlds.
2. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (1991)
Viewed by many as one of the best games ever created, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past arrived on the Super Nintendo in the early 90s. Set before the events of the first two Zelda games, Link's mission revolves around trying to thwart Ganon's plans and save the descendants of the Seven Sages. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past brought back the top-down view and introduced concepts that would become iconic over the next 30+ years of Zelda games. Going through parallel worlds and having your actions in one world affect the other helps ensure The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past remains at or near the top of these lists.
3. Street Fighter 2 (1991)
The game that helped make the Street Fighter franchise legendary, Street Fighter 2 introduced us to eight characters players would grow to love. Regardless of your favorite fighter, this game has something for everyone who enjoys fighting games. Street Fighter 2 also features memorable bosses like Sagat and M. Bison. The day Street Fighter 2 arrived on home consoles, fighting game fans raced out to buy it, but for M. Bison, it was just Tuesday.
4. Super Mario Kart (1992)
The Mario Kart series popularized the cart racing genre for millions of people. Being able to race with Mario, Yoshi, Bowser, and more Nintendo characters provides a lot of fun. Super Mario Kart featured 20 different race tracks and three difficulty levels. During a race, players could grab a power-up to give them the edge over the other competitors. Items like a Mushroom to provide the racer with a burst of speed, or a Red Shell that acts like a homing missile when the player fires it are two examples of why this game and franchise have been so popular.
5. Illusion of Gaia (1993)
The illusion of Gaia features a large cast of characters, however, the game only has Will, Friedan, and Shadow as playable characters. Will must lead the charge to save the world from impending doom. Throughout the story of Illusion of Gaia, Will and his friends explore ancient ruins based on real-world civilizations. The combat in the game has all of the characters sharing the same health and defense scores. The levels of strength differ from character to character. Each person brings a unique advantage, so be sure to pay attention to your situation and respond accordingly. Instead of an experience points system, Illusion of Gaia gives Will a jewel after the battle, offering a permanent increase in defense, health, or attack power.
6. Myst (1993)
When Myst arrived on home computers in the 90s, it changed everything. Players experience Myst in first-person, going through interactive locations and trying to solve various puzzles to advance. Instead of moving your character with an analog stick, the player must click on the screen to move. Myst enjoyed tremendous success when released, with this game spawning an entire franchise. Myst drops the player into the game with no threat of dying and invites everyone to solve its riddles. The player must then use their wits and knowledge to gain access to new areas.
7. Mortal Kombat 2 (1993)
Partly responsible for forming the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, Mortal Kombat 2 introduced everyone to a violent new world. At the end of each fight, players are given the opportunity to perform a Fatality on their opponent. With the player's ability to rip out their opponent's spine, saw them in half, or something else entirely, this level of violence wasn't normal at the time of Mortal Kombat 2‘s release and became highly controversial. Mortal Kombat 2 spawned an iconic franchise that still delights fans today.
8. Super Metroid (1994)
Set on the planet Zebes, Samus has a mission to retrieve an infant Metroid creature. The evolution of a popular franchise from Nintendo's original console, Super Metroid introduced many concepts that still get used today. One of the games responsible for the “Metroidvania” genre, Samus' adventure on the Super Nintendo featured memorable moments such as the battle against Ridley and finally getting that one item after a previously inaccessible area became available.
9. Donkey Kong Country (1994)
A reboot of the Donkey Kong franchise, Donkey Kong Country features Donkey and Diddy Kong. Donkey Kong Country features platforming gameplay through 40 different levels. While on your journey to defeat King K. Rool, Donkey Kong will collect items, ride minecarts, fight bosses, and tame animals. Donkey Kong's gameplay revolves around his strength, while Diddy's skills involve being quicker and more agile. When utilized correctly, both characters can use their respective skills to help get through any obstacle.
10. Chrono Trigger (1995)
Fans of Japanese role-playing games have undoubtedly heard about Chrono Trigger. The development team featured Hironobu Sakaguchi (creator of the Final Fantasy series), Yuji Horii (creator of the Dragon Quest series), and Akira Toriyama (character designer for Dragon Quest and author of the Dragon Ball manga series). The gameplay takes place in a two-dimensional world with an overworld map that shows the world from an overhead view. Chrono Trigger utilizes an Active Battle System, similar to the system used in some Final Fantasy games. Among other concepts, Chrono Trigger features time travel, where players can access seven eras of the world's history.
11. Twisted Metal (1995)
Twisted Metal brought vehicular combat to Sony's first console. Players can go through the story mode or take their chances in duel mode, where the rubber hits the road in a one-on-one battle. Every vehicle comes with mounted machine guns. Players can find more effective weapons while exploring the environment while at the same time trying to prevent themselves from getting taken out. Twisted Metal launched a series of games on PlayStation consoles as well as its show earlier this year on the Peacock streaming service.
12. Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996)
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars featured an interesting collaboration between Square Enix and Nintendo. Mario and his crew need to defeat the Smithy Gang. The Smithy Gang crashed into Mario's world and shattered the Star Road into seven pieces. Taking cues from Square Enix's popular Final Fantasy franchise, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars features turn-based combat with a party of three characters. The game has an isometric view and plays like a 3D platformer. Earlier this year, Nintendo revealed that Super Mario RPG was receiving the remake treatment and came to the Nintendo Switch in November 2023.
13. Resident Evil (1996)
Resident Evil has become one of the most popular horror franchises in the industry. The first game launched on the PlayStation in 1996. Gameplay in Resident Evil titles consists of exploration, puzzle solving, inventory management, and jumping out of your seat when a dog comes crashing through a window. At the time of release, Resident Evil became the highest-selling title on PlayStation. Resident Evil has since gone on to have many more games in addition to multiple movies with varying results.
14. Super Mario 64 (1996)
The godfather of 3D platformers, Super Mario 64 ushered in the 3D revolution as a launch title for the Nintendo 64 console. The story follows Mario as he tries to reclaim the Power Stars Bowser stole. Mario enters the different worlds by jumping into paintings inside Princess Peach's castle. Utilizing the new 3D environment, Super Mario 64 allows Mario's abilities to be far more diverse, including walking, running, crouching, climbing, kicking, grabbing objects, and more. Mario also has the long jump, backflip, wall jump, and other new tricks. The player can also adjust the camera to toggle between first-person and third-person.
15. Tomb Raider (1996)
Tomb Raider follows archaeologist Lara Croft as she searches for ancient treasure. The developers utilized Egyptian tombs as inspiration for the level design. At the time, Tomb Raider received praise for its 3D graphics and gameplay. Tomb Raider became one of the best-selling games on the original PlayStation. It also helped launch a franchise that remains popular to this day, spawning many sequels, as well as feature films.
16. Crash Bandicoot (1996)
Previously a mascot for PlayStation, Crash Bandicoot became a popular platformer for Sony. The story follows Crash as he attempts to defeat Cortex and foil his plans to take over the world in addition to rescuing his girlfriend, Tawna. Crash Bandicoot features 32 levels of mayhem, mainly playable from the third-person perspective. Some levels have the player running directly towards the screen, while others have more of the side-scrolling action. Crash remained a mascot for PlayStation until 2000, when Universal and Konami received the publishing rights. Crash eventually found his way to Activision, now owned by Microsoft. That means that a previous PlayStation mascot now belongs to Xbox and Microsoft.
17. Final Fantasy VII (1997)
One of the most legendary games to come out of the original PlayStation era, Final Fantasy VII brought a lot of people not only into the franchise but the Japanese role-playing game genre itself. Featuring a story that pits Avalanche against the evil corporation Shinra, Final Fantasy VII took a considerable leap forward by utilizing 2D sprites on a 3D background. Square made Final Fantasy VII a highly cinematic experience with some of the most iconic moments in the industry's history. After many years, Square Enix finally released a remake for the first part of Final Fantasy VII in 2020 and will release the second game of the Remake trilogy in early 2024.
18. GoldenEye 007 (1997)
The most famous first-person shooter from that era, GoldenEye 007, arrived on the Nintendo 64 in 1997. It immediately caught everyone's attention with its single-player missions, stealth elements, and multiplayer functionality, something relatively rare back then. GoldenEye 007 features more than 20 weapons, each with unique attributes. Each level featured three difficulty settings to cater to a wide array of players. The multiplayer allowed up to four players to compete in deathmatches via split-screen. This game has since been re-released as a port of the original on Nintendo Switch and a remaster on Xbox.
19. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night (1997)
A direct sequel to Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night takes place four years later. The protagonist, Alucard, needs to explore Dracula's castle after some strange events. This particular Castlevania adventure broke from the mold of earlier titles in the franchise with its non-linear level design. The story also comes with an interesting twist that no one saw coming that forces the player to explore the castle in a new way.
20. Banjo-Kazooie (1998)
Players first saw Banjo-Kazooie in 1998 when Rare decided to make a new platformer. At that time, Nintendo owned Rare, and the combination of both parties delivered a fun platforming title that fans still enjoy today. The protagonists in the game include Banjo (a brown honey bear) and Kazooie (a red-crested “Breegull”). The witch Gruntilda kidnapped Banjo's younger sister and now the duo must rescue her. In the game, the player completes jigsaw puzzles to open doors to new worlds. The player must also utilize musical notes to open new overworld sections.
21. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
One of the highest-rated games of all time, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time showed everyone how to do a big open-world game in the late 90s. Link's first adventure on the Nintendo 64 featured gameplay in a three-dimensional world with some time-traveling mechanics. The controls introduced new concepts, such as a targeting system that allows Link to lock on to enemies and objects. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time also featured some challenging dungeons, especially since we now had to get used to thinking in three dimensions. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time became a template for game developers everywhere, one which Nintendo has returned to on multiple occasions.
22. StarCraft (1998)
One of the most popular real-time strategy games in the world, StarCraft got its start in 1998 when Blizzard released it on PC. Starcraft revolves around three species fighting for control: the Protoss, Zerg, and Terrans. Of course, each species believes its path is the correct one. StarCraft features artificial intelligence that will scale the difficulty of the game accordingly. In the beginning, the enemies will take it easy, but as the player progresses, the challenges become more complex. The single-player campaign features 30 missions — 10 for each race. Resource management becomes a crucial component to victory, regardless of the species. The players with the most success in the game find a way to construct structures in a way that efficiently mines resources.
23. Metal Gear Solid (1998)
Metal Gear Solid follows the adventures of Solid Snake as he attempts to get through a nuclear weapons facility without getting discovered. Metal Gear as a franchise switched to 3D with Metal Gear Solid, even though the game still plays primarily from an overhead perspective. Metal Gear Solid has one of the most memorable boss fights in history where the enemy could actually “read your mind,” and the way to stop him from doing that involved unplugging your controller from the first slot and plugging it back into the second slot. This fight gave players an experience no one has ever seen before and something that players haven't seen since.
24. Crazy Taxi (1999)
In Crazy Taxi, players must quickly pick up passengers and get them to their destination. One of the primary reasons Crazy Taxi became so popular revolves around the licensing that existed within the game. For example, some passengers must go to Pizza Hut, while others might need to go to Tower Records. Additionally, the game's soundtrack caught everyone's attention and became immediately recognizable to fans. The player can earn money by completing their fares promptly and successfully performing stunts while entertaining their passengers along the way.
25. Syphon Filter (1999)
A third-person shooter developed by 989 Studios, Syphon Filter developed quite a big fan base on the original PlayStation. The story revolves around “Gabe” Logan and Lian Xing, agents of the U.S. government trying to apprehend an international terrorist. Syphon Filter utilized an interesting mixture of puzzle-solving and stealth action. The locales in the game range from Washington, D.C., all the way to Kazakhstan. Syphon Filter received many sequels. However, it has been a long time since this franchise has had a new entry, and fans would love to see Sony return to it one day.