It may be hard to believe in our era of high-end PC gaming rigs, but there was a time when console gaming really was superior to playing on a computer. Sure, things changed pretty quickly when Doom and Quake hit the scene, but, even at that time, only the most advanced, hardware-accelerated desktops could tackle the herculean task of running those games. For those who had to rely on birthday gifts and Christmas presents to satisfy their gaming needs in the 90s, consoles tended to be the only realistic option.
As a result, some of the most fondly remembered games called consoles of that era their home. I’m sure I don’t need to rattle off a list of classic experiences of that era, as just about everyone over the age of fifteen can think of an endearing title which initially released in that decade. While it can be fun to reminisce over what made 90s console gaming so great, it can also be worthwhile to recall some of the flops of the time—games which were admittedly pretty awful, but we stuck by them because, in an era before titles could be bought for pennies on Steam or in used game stores, they were all we had. Most of these titles have been lost to history, but it’s high time we paid homage to those obdurate gamers who slugged through some of this digital sludge back in the day.
30 Lamest: Lester The Unlikely (SNES - 1993)
Now famous for its appearance on everyone’s favorite internet show about an angry, nostalgic gaming nerd, Lester the Unlikely has to be one of the most unique platformers in an era in which games of that sort were a dime a dozen. However, this title stands out for all of the wrong reasons. Platformers are typically characterized by the superhuman abilities of their characters: Mario could jump as if he were on the moon, Sonic could outrun ANYTHING, and Lester… well, Lester could take damage from falling a short distance and was afraid of turtles. Say what you will about the virtues of meek protagonists, but Lester certainly didn’t belong in a SNES game.
29 Lamest: Wonderdog (Sega CD - 1992)
Yet another wannabe mascot platformer, Wonderdog was hardly a system seller, and it didn’t really prove that CD technology could grow to overtake the production of game cartridges in the new millennium. A bog-standard cartoon action/platformer in the vain of Bubsy or perhaps Jazz Jackrabbit, Wonderdog very much seems to be a character chasing the trends set forth by the likes of Mario and Sonic. Hardly anyone owned a Sega CD back in ‘92, though, and nobody wanted to buy one just to play a game that looked as if it could run on the standard Genesis hardware, to begin with.
28 Best: Super Mario World (SNES - 1990)
I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to remove my personal bias from this title, as it was actually the first game that I ever played (though I first experienced the title on the Game Boy Advance). Super Mario World was a testament to Nintendo’s first-party game development prowess, and it stood shoulder to shoulder with Sonic the Hedgehog all throughout the 16-bit generation. Colorful, cheery, and the lengthiest Mario platformer to date at that time, there was little reason to not get behind what Nintendo was doing. Genesis may have done what Ninten-don’t, but you couldn’t play Super Mario World on Sega’s console.
27 Lamest: Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! (SNES - 1994)
Home Improvement stands as a relic of its time: a quirky comedy show centered around the exploits of Tim Allen and his power tool based television program, it definitely isn’t the kind of show which would be greenlit today. Of course, given that hardly any IP was without some sort of video game adaptation back in the day, Allen’s weird grunts and groans made their way to the SNES in 1994 in the form of Home Improvement: Power Tool Pursuit! Oddly difficult and somewhat off-putting, I don’t know that anyone back in the mid-90s was looking to satisfy their Home Improvement cravings on their home consoles.
26 Lamest: Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle II (Game Boy - 1991)
Bugs Bunny and his Looney Tune still found time to impress during the 90s, even though the likes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Beavis and Butthead had swept up most of the TV-watching audience of the time. However, the Wild Hare still held enough sway to host his own suite of games on the both the NES and Game Boy, though they aren’t exactly regarded as classic titles by those who still remember them. Most Game Boy games were thought to be inferior replicas of home console games, but, in the case of Crazy Castle, the mobile port was equally as bad as the real deal.
25 Best: Kirby’s Adventure (NES - 1993)
Though today Kirby is one of the most iconic Nintendo IPs and his developer, HAL Laboratories, went on to achieve major success with the Super Smash Bros. series, few realize that both the dev and their little pink ball can be traced back to the NES. 1993’s Kirby’s Adventure flew under many a radar back in the day as it released during a time in which Nintendo’s debut mainstream console was quickly fading from relevancy. It’s a fantastic game, though, and it set the stage for mascot and genre of platformer which would explode in popularity come his 16-bit adventures later that decade.
24 Lamest: Mega Man Soccer (SNES - 1994)
Mega Man was among the most iconic video game characters of the 8-bit generation. Sure, we had Mario at the time, but nobody else brought it quite like Mega man could. Mario never shot lasers out of his arms or did battle with giant robots, and the series was so well liked that it will be seeing a well-deserved revitalization sometime this year. However, nobody ever asked for a soccer game starring the Blue Bomber, much less a half-baked one. Mega Man Soccer misses most of what made the franchise great: expertly-designed platforming, gripping combat, and memorable bosses. Not only is kicking around a soccer ball not representative of what Mega Man does best, but it doesn’t really seem to be within his wheelhouse in the first place.
23 Lamest: Dragon’s Lair (NES - 1990)
Dragon’s Lair was thought to be a standout arcade experience thanks to its distinctive animation and use of full-motion video. Of course, that meant that it couldn’t run on an NES, or any competing piece of home hardware at the time. As a result, those looking to port the game over had to take more than a few liberties. Unfortunately, the product gamers ended up receiving in 1990 was about as unrepresentative of the arcade classic as it could possibly have been: gone was the classic animation, the frantic, think-on-your-feet pace, and the thrill of it all; in its place stood a miserable, unresponsive mess of a game which served as nothing more than a discredit to the hardware on which it ran.
22 Best: F-Zero (SNES - 1991)
F-Zero was a bold first step into the future for gamers: for the first time, we had a home console racing game that attempted to take the action to the third dimension. Though admittedly just a slick mode 7 effect, the game showcased Nintendo’s major graphical leap from their original entertainment system, and it made the future of gaming seem vast and incredible. We would, of course, be introduced to a true 3D title on the very same console with the release of Star Fox, but F-Zero, in my mind, was the first game to turn the dial up to eleven and usher in a new era of gaming.
21 Worst: Waterworld (Virtual Boy - 1995)
Nintendo proved to be way, way ahead of the curve back in 1995 when they attempted to bring the world of virtual reality into the living room’s of consumers. A totally revolutionary piece of machinery, it —unfortunately— failed to catch on thanks to accusations of eye strain, a lack of third-party developer support, and a very bare-bones color pallet. What’s the best way to ensure that your gaming console flops? Well, limiting the available colors to nothing more than red and black might be a good start. While none of the game’s in the Virtual Boy’s library are well remembered, Waterworld—the film that sunk Kevin Costner's career—was probably the worst of the lot.
20 Worst: Zelda’s Adventure (Philips CD-i - 1995)
Zelda’s Adventure must at least be lauded for a lack of the bottom-of-the-bargain-bin animation which plagues the other two CD-i Zelda releases. It’s also somewhat innovative in that it is one of the very few Zelda games that allows the player to take control of the princess herself. That said, the experience is essentially like playing a top-down Zelda clone with just about all of the fun and ease-of-use siphoned out. Cumbersome to a fault and bloated by obnoxious load times, Zelda’s Adventure showcases why the CD-i could never compare to any of its contemporary counterparts.
19 Best: Battletoads (NES - 1991)
Another game which suffered slightly from a release late in a consoles life, Battletoads harbored a cult fan base for a few years before the game really grew to be popular. In fact, Rare’s NES hit has become so well known that the series is actually slated to receive a new entry sometime next year. Infamously difficult yet infinitely entertaining when played cooperatively, Battletoads is totally representative of what gaming on the couch is best at: you and a friend teaming up and battling hordes of baddies on the same CRT screen. Yes, it could be completely unforgiving at times, but the title certainly belongs amidst the greatest video game releases of the 1990s.
18 Lamest: Night Trap (Sega CD - 1992)
A game so apparently grotesque that it paved the way for the ESRB, Night Trap was very much a product of the Tipper-led moral panic of the time. The goal of the experience was to defend a group of teenagers from a gaggle of ensuing thieves, but the infancy of the employed technology left the game feeling overly-hoaky and ridiculous (though the cringey acting didn’t help). For whatever reason, the game still enjoys a bit of a cult following, though by modern standards it comes across as so tame and boring that few could ever really conjure up a reason to give it a try.
17 Worst: The Mask (SNES - 1994)
A movie-based title that few likely remember from the days when 16-bit consoles reigned, Jim Carrey's The Mask doesn’t exactly seem like it would be rife for video game adaptation. However, given that there was a Home Improvement game on the SNES, developers seemed to think that just about any property could be thrown on the system. While admittedly pretty average in terms of platforming games, the experience is let down by the fact that there isn’t a continue system, and the game features a relatively punishing difficulty curve. That’s a common fault of many NES games, but the devs should have known better at this point.
16 Best: Sonic the Hedgehog (Sega Genesis - 1991)
We all know Sega’s blue hedgehog to be something of a laughing stock today, but there was a time in which he was thought to be one of the most prolific and important video game characters in existence. He was the face of Sega’s “blast processing” marketing gimmick—a semi-fictitious feature which supposedly allowed for the screen to keep up with the blue blur—and he encouraged many young gamers to back away from Nintendo. While the quality of his later games is questionable at best, the original Sonic trilogy still stands as a set of classic experiences, led by one of the most iconic games of the era.
15 Lamest: The Berenstain Bears on Their Own, and You on Your Own (Philips CD-i - 1993)
Perhaps exhibiting an overuse of the CD-i’s FMV capabilities, The Berenstain Bears on Their Own, and You on Your Own is almost totally absent of gameplay. Opting to be essentially a glorified episode of the famously mispronounced kid’s show, it title certainly doesn’t exhibit any bold new gameplay initiatives or offer anything unique for fans of the property. In fact, I think there may have been some form of hardware available at the time which allowed for on-demand video playback. What was that called? Oh, that’s right—a VHS player. Unless you are, for whatever reason, a hardcore fan of the Berenstain Bears, this piece of software is best avoided.
14 Lamest: Uniracers (SNES - 1994)
This one isn’t bad, per se; it’s more an example of what happens when game development stagnates as a result of a lack of innovative ideas. Uniracers, if you couldn’t already tell by the name, features a set of player-controlled, riderless unicycles which need to be guided through a series of challenging obstacle courses. Sure, on paper it actually sounds like a decent idea, but the game is such an oddity that it almost needs to be condemned. A vast majority of SNES games were sidescrollers, as that’s what the system was essentially built for, but rather than push gameplay in any bold new directions, Uniracers was basically just another platformer with a slight twist.
13 Best: Final Fantasy VII (PlayStation - 1997)
Final Fantasy VII might be one of the most important RPG’s of all time; imaginative, ambitious, and memorable, there’s a reason fans have been clamoring for an HD remake since the onset of the high-definition era. Lengthy and captivating, this is an absolute must own title for anyone collecting for Sony’s original PlayStation. The Final Fantasy series is a long-running gaming institution which continues to captivate millions upon millions of players with each release, but it’s doubtful that the series could ever outdo what was done over twenty years ago on one of the first successful CD-based consoles.
12 Lamest: Zelda: The Wand Of Gamelon (Phillips CD-i - 1993)
Often referred to as the absolute worst of the worst when it comes to bad games, Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon is one of three bummer Zelda games Nintendo conceded to Phillips in their ill-advised early 90s partnership. A meme before memes were really even a thing, the animation in Wand of Gamelon is downright shameful and a total black mark on an otherwise stellar series. In fact, these titles are so bad that lots of players—myself included—don’t even consider them to be Zelda games. Gone is the top-down action and exploration, and in its place is some of the jankiest side-scrolling in all of gaming history.
11 Lamest: Mohawk And Headphone Jack (SNES - 1995)
Another casualty in the rush to develop mascot platforms like the industry-leading Mario brothers, Mohawk and Headphone Jack seems to prioritize flashy visuals over playability: one need only look at the game’s title screen to understand the game’s propensity for overblown neon visuals. Outside of that, Mohawk and Headphone Jack is marred by the fact that it is ostensibly just another side-scroller amidst a sea of very samey, similar experiences. There’s really no reason to pick this game up unless you happen to be a SNES collector, and even then I would caution against an extreme migraine risk. Seriously—I watched about a minute’s worth of gameplay, and my head already hurts.
10 Best: GoldenEye 007 (Nintendo 64 - 1997)
While it hasn’t aged well at all thanks to the Nintendo 64’s wonky controller and lack of a second analog stick, GoldenEye 007 was one of the best multiplayer games available for Nintendo’s fifth generation system. Just as well, it revolutionized the FPS genre and proved that a whole lot of fun could be packed into Nintendo’s outdated proprietary cartridges. Games like Call of Duty and the late Medal of Honor franchises owe a lot to Rare’s classic shooter. While subsequent James Bond video game experiences were relatively lackluster, gamers still marvel over just how good GoldenEye 007 was.
9 Lamest: Captain Novolin (SNES - 1992)
Captain Novolin should be commended for addressing the relatively common issue of childhood diabetes, as it’s a pretty difficult disease to overcome for young kids. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the subject had to be tackled in a SNES game. Video games are by and large held to be forms of escapism, and an insulin-welding superhero seems to be a bit on-the-nose. On top of that, the game is pretty much awful, with difficult-to-avoid enemies, uninspired character design, and some good old fashion janky control, I highly doubt anyone looks back fondly on this forgotten title.
8 Lamest: Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties (3DO - 1994)
Launching with an incredible $700 price tag—which comes out to be over $1000 when adjusted for today’s inflation—the 3DO was a hard sell from the get-go. Worse still was the lackluster library of games which often featured bizarre oddities such as 1994’s Plumbers Don’t Wear Ties. A very lame attempt at adult entertainment, this romantic comedy wannabe doesn’t deliver on any of its back-of-the-box promises and succeeds only in being a total programming anomaly. Nowhere else does such a nonsensical piece of software exist, and the only gamers who remember it now are those who re-watch old episodes of the Angry Video Game Nerd.
7 Best: The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past (SNES - 1991)
While the original Zelda title on the NES was a classic and in many ways proved that video games could be much more compelling and story-driven than the high-score centric experiences rampant in the arcades, 1991’s The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was nothing short of a declaration that games could be considered as pieces of art. Bold, endearing, and a blast to play, the third mainline Zelda title cemented the series as one of the most captivating experiences available on the SNES, or perhaps in the medium as a whole. While many have tried, few save Nintendo themselves can adequately replicate the Zelda experience.
6 Lamest: Godzilla (Game Boy - 1990)
Godzilla’s Game Boy adaptation was about as disappointing as it could possibly have been. Sure, those anticipating a full-fledged monster rampage on Nintendo’s first handheld console were setting themselves up for disappointment, but the awesome box art and title screen left very little indication of what the actual gameplay would be like. Cutesy and uninspired, 1990s Godzilla was about as divorced from the content on which it was based as it possibly could have been. Everyone loves Godzilla, but nobody wants to play a platformer starring a miniaturized, plushy version of him.
5 Lamest: Dream Emulator (PlayStation - 1998)
Dream Emulator is apparently intended to be the artistic manifestation of a series of dreams the game’s lead designer had, but that wouldn’t be apparent to anybody picking up a controller. What appears at the outset to be a trippy romp through a polygonal, neon nightmare, the game could best be described as a walking simulator before the genre really even existed. Dream Emulator has developed something of a cult following since its initial 1998 release, but that still isn’t indicative of its quality. This game is awkward and wholly unpleasant, and those curious about the title would do well to avoid it.
4 Best: Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64 - 1996)
3D platformers released before the 1996 release of Super Mario 64 suffered from a lack of standardized, suitable control schemes. Many games opted for Resident Evil’s wonky tank control conceit, and, though that worked for slower-paced titles, playing a platformer with this control setup was a totally miserable experience. Mario, however, showed the world how it should be done: fluid, logical, and ergonomic, Super Mario 64 helped to cross the last hurdle standing between the world and capable 3D gameplay. Had this game not been such a success, it’s difficult to imagine what might have happened to the video game industry.
3 Worst: Superman (Nintendo 64 - 1999)
Officially released as simply Superman but colloquially known as Superman 64, the Man of Steel’s 1999 outing on the Nintendo 64 is one of the most markedly awful experiences available for the platform. The entirety of the game is focused around grappling with the downright abysmal control scheme, as a large portion of the game is centered around a series of time trials which kick the player back to the beginning should they be failed. The rings course is probably the most infamous stage, as the controls are so broken that flying through a simple series of hoops becomes an absolute chore.
2 Worst: Link: The Faces Of Evil (Philips CD-i - 1993)
The worst of the worst, Link: The Faces of Evil is probably the most abhorrent creation to ever make it to store shelves. The animation in this game is a downright crime against nature, and anyone who plays it will likely be haunted by the ugly, insipid caricatures of beloved Zelda characters. An already mediocre side scroller broken beyond belief and made nigh on unplayable by a crippling set of design flaws, The Faces of Evil really does deserve to be mocked so frequently by an audience that was likely burned by Nintendo’s partnership with Philips. A rare collector's item today, I can’t imagine that anyone who got their hands on this travesty back in the day could have been too happy.
1 Best: The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64 - 1998)
This game appears at the top of just about every list of the best video games ever released, and for good reason. Some have criticized the actual gameplay, though the targeting system was for action/adventure games what Mario 64’s controls were to 3D platformers. What makes this game so memorable is the atmosphere: regardless of the blocky N64 visuals, the land of Hyrule seems so magical—and the player is given free reign to explore the territory. In many ways, this felt like a bold new leap for gaming as a whole; no longer were we toiling away with mindless drivel—for the first time, we were bonafide adventurers.