Growing up in the 90s was a joy. It was a decade that packed in iconic moments, from an indie music revolution to gaming evolution!
And that is no hyperbole. The 90s was the decade of gaming evolution.
Gamers went from 16-bit to 3D in what felt like minutes. From Sonic The Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis (1991) to one of the best ever story-driven FPS games in Half-Life (1998):
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Yet, what were the most popular 90s video games?
(Includes the all-time best, genre-defining, evolutionary, and revolutionary).
1. The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time (1998), N64
The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time, two decades on is still considered the best game ever.
Back in 98′ The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time was mind-blowing. It felt like a huge living world, that was only topped in 2001 by Grand Theft Auto III or by Elder Scrolls: Morrowind in 2002.
In Ocarina Of Time, every puzzle felt like an achievement and that first moment you were able to call Epona (Link’s horse) and ride through the wilds felt genuinely like a moment of evolution:
The training wheels had come off and gaming felt truly like escapism.
2. Sonic The Hedgehog (1991), Sega Genesis
Sonic The Hedgehog sold a ridiculous 44.1-million units worldwide.
There’s no denying, that Sonic The Hedgehog is one of the best side-scrollers in the history of gaming. And maybe, even one of the best 16-bit games ever…
However, in this gamer’s opinion, Green Hills Zone can jog on!
Super Mario World was better and in 1992 Sonic 2 hit the market. And anyone who knows 90s gaming will agree, that Sonic 2 was a much better game – but never had the same popularity.
3. Half-Life (1998), PC
Half-Life is one of the most important games of all-time – and is responsible for changing the gaming industry.
When Half-Life hit the market in 98 I was fortunate enough to have a PC that could handle it. And when people say “it changed gaming”, they’re right. You felt as if in a movie, with a science fiction story worthy of the big screen. And that isn’t overstating the game – it was mind-blowing!
Not only did the narrative drag you in, the game pushed boundaries in AI, puzzles, and even let gamers loose on the game’s SDK to mod everything. And we’re forgetting that Half-Life literally paved the way for Valve to dominate PC gaming for decades.
4. Final Fantasy VII (1997), Sony PlayStation
Final Fantasy VII is considered the best of the series and sold 13.3-million units worldwide.
Honestly, I was never a fan of Final Fantasy. That is until VII hit, and then turn-based gaming became sexy. Granted, there is a heap of lore for fans to get into and when looking at the most popular 90s games, Final Fantasy VII is top-10 amongst fans.
5. Super Mario 64 (1996), N64
To this day, Super Mario 64 is considered the best platformer ever made.
By the time Super Mario 64 hit the market in 1996 I was done with platformers. And despite playing Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo Switch, it felt archaic compared to Super Mario Sunshine or Super Mario Galaxy.
However, despite me missing out on the experience of playing Super Mario 64 in the 90s, to this day, it is considered the pinnacle of platforming. I guess you just had to be there in 96.
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6. Metal Gear Solid (1998), Sony PlayStation
The Metal Gear Solid series introduced gamers to a new genre, stealth.
In 1998, Metal Gear Solid (MGS) hit the market, and its mix of stealth-based gameplay and interesting characters stamped Sony’s PlayStation as the future.
There’s no doubt, MGS is a great game. But in my memory, it will always be the final nail in the N64 coffin. The game proved that the Sony PlayStation was a world ahead of the N64 in terms of tone and power:
Amazingly, the PlayStation (PS1) also took out the Sega Dreamcast, which hit the market in 98, and despite having better-looking games than the PS1, it just didn’t have the support from developers.
7. Super Mario World (1990), SNES
Super Mario World sold 20.6-million units worldwide and was the top selling SNES game.
The best side-scrolling platformer ever made:
(Nothing else needs to be said).
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8. Resident Evil (1996), Sony PlayStation
The Resident Evil gaming series has sold 120-million units worldwide.
When Resident Evil hit in 1996, the PlayStation was in full swing. Literally decimating the competition with games that, at the time, looked better than anything gamers had seen before. And the big difference was that narrative and gaming characters were bigger, bolder, and destined for pop culture.
What made Resident Evil so good was the fact it was interactive horror with better jump scares than most movies today. For example, everyone who played the game remembers the first zombie they saw to this day.
9. GoldenEye 007 (1997), N64
GoldenEye 007 on the N64 was credited with changing gaming history.
If this was a list of my all-time favorite games, GoldenEye 007 wins. Everyone praises the multiplayer, which was out-of-this-world. It revolutionized gaming with its four-player split-screen:
To this day, I can remember running around the Facility map with the License To Kill (one shot one kill) and Pistols Only modes on. It is the peak moment in gaming for this old-timer.
However, what made this game most memorable was the cheat system. You would have to complete insane tasks to unlock, including a speed run of the Facility that needed perfect timing.
For almost the entirety of 1997 and 1998, GoldenEye 007 was the only game played on my N64.
10. Street Fighter 2 (1992), SNES, and Sega Genesis
Street Fighter II was played by at least 25-million people in the U.S. alone!
There was a battle in the 90s between beat-em-ups. It saw Street Fighter 2 take on Mortal Kombat on 16-bit consoles. Gamers seeking fluid arcade action went for Street Fighter, while gore-junkies went all-in on Mortal Kombat:
Both games were excellent, but Street Fighter 2 makes this top-10 because the SNES version of Mortal Kombat sucked (no gore). And that was the console I had it on (I’ll never forgive Nintendo for that).