The year 1999 was now 20 years ago. That’s right. The 90s ended two decades ago. For any gamer who remembers that era clearly and lived through it, it was a time of fast and exciting changes. Think about it: The medium evolved from 8-bit sprites to 3D in the span of a single decade. These days, games from 10 years ago will only have blurrier textures.
When something is officially old, like the 90s, it’s always fun to do a retrospective. We have picked what we believe to be the best games of every year, basing ourselves on critical acclaim and lasting influence. The release dates are for North America. It’s by no means a complete list of the best games of the decade, but for anyone who would like a taste of it, it’s a good place to start.
10 1990: Super Mario Bros. 3
Released two years earlier in Japan, Super Mario Bros. 3 arrived in North America at a time when the Sega Genesis was already starting to make waves. The 8-bit title stood out from the pack by offering what was at that point the ultimate platforming experience: Perfectly crafted levels, new gameplay mechanics using inventive power-ups, and an experience that stayed challenging despite its approachability. For many fans of platformers, SMB3 remains the purest distillation of the Super Mario experience ever released.
9 1991: Super Mario World
Only a year later, North America was introduced to the Super NES and, at the same time, Super Mario World. While SMB3 was more streamlined, Super Mario World went above and beyond: The number of courses available in the game was unparalleled, and they ranged from simple but clever to devilishly tough.
It showed that platformers could be expended in new directions. Yoshi is the biggest example, but let’s not forget the puzzles provided by the Ghost Houses as well as the many alternate exits hidden throughout the game. It added a sense of exploration to a genre that until then mostly encouraged players to go right.
8 1992: The Legend Of Zelda: A Link To The Past
Sonic 2 was also released in 1992, and was close to being picked, but it had the unfortunate burden of being in competition with what’s either considered the best 2D Zelda game of all time, or the best Zelda game, period. A Link to the Past went back to the series’ top-down views after Zelda II’s side-scrolling interlude. The Dark World vs Light World system cleverly created a massive map by mostly reusing the same data twice, and the result was a game where players always felt like there was something more to discover. It also sports some of the best dungeon design in the entire series.
7 1993: Doom
Doom's legacy is that of a controversial game. Sure, it mostly got mentioned in the contemporary mainstream press because of the blood and gore, but it was so much more than that. It was one of the most immersive games of its time and proved that first-person shooters were more than a novelty.
It also introduced mods and deathmatches to more adventurous players, but even casual gamers got lost in its detailed levels and moody music. There’s a reason why it’s being ported to every console, system, and machine ever created.
6 1994: Super Metroid
Super Metroid is an actual masterpiece in every sense of the word. Not only is it the best Metroid game ever created, or the best game of its year, it also contains one of the best soundtracks ever composed, as well as exquisite sprite-based art that still hold up to this day. The sheer scale of some of the enemies was something rarely seen at the time. Its influence can still be felt to this day: Its gameplay is one half of the genre-defining “Metroidvania” conventions, and the number of games inspired by or simply imitating it grows with each passing year.
5 1995: Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger could very well be the greatest role-playing game ever created, and it’s hard to pinpoint a single reason why. Everything within it feels unique and unequalled in its own field. Its battle system brought a fresh take on something that was starting to feel tired.
Its eras-spanning story, with multiple endings and endearing characters that actually evolve as the game advances, feels deeper than any other game before or since. Finally, let’s not forget the music, which has since been covered by professional orchestras and amateur musicians alike.
4 1996: Super Mario 64
There had been 3D games before, and yet, the release of Super Mario 64 felt like a landmark. Its first achievement was proving that well-known 2D series could make the shift to 3D while remaining faithful to their roots.
It second achievement was taking a limited number of levels and making them feel gigantic, by focusing on exploration and discovery. It also spawned a wave of 3D collect-a-thons, which for better or worse, came to define 3D platforming for a long while. But until Super Mario Galaxy came around, no one did it better than Super Mario 64.
3 1997: Final Fantasy VII
Final Fantasy VII is more than just a great game, or the best entry in the series. While Japanese role-playing games were always reasonably popular with gaming enthusiasts, the genre was once upon a time seen as niche in North America.
FFVII, with its engrossing story and at-the-time revolutionary graphics and gameplay, popularized the genre on the continent and opened up the floodgates: JRPGs have been a staple of many gamers’ diet since. They say you never forget your first, and that’s why we are all eagerly awaiting the long-promised remake, which is expected in early 2020.
2 1998: The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
Ocarina of Time was such a game-changer it forged the idea of what a 3D adventure game should be for many of those who experienced it during its original release. It was so good that it introduced new gameplay mechanics that have become standards across 3rd person games ever since. It was so good that it created a template for the series to follow.
It was so good that no other Zelda title has been able to get out of its shadow until Breath of the Wild. It might have been surpassed technologically, but it still packs a punch emotionally.
1 1999: SoulCalibur
The Sega Dreamcast had a short life compared to most consoles, but it still had a lasting impact with a roster of solid, innovative, and gorgeous games at its disposal. SoulCalibur was arguably the best of the bunch, being even better than the arcade game on which it is based. The focus on weapons made it stand out from the pack, but its main attraction was that it was just pure fun. Featuring about twice as many modes as most other fighting games, it was also perfectly balanced and fun for pros and beginners alike. It’s about as flawless as a fighting game can be.