In today’s fast-paced world where technology has become synonymous with everyday life, there’s nothing quite like thinking back on simpler times—reminiscing about consoles with cables, blowing into game cartridges to make them “work” again, bandaging blistered thumbs, and spending way too much on batteries.
It’s hard to say if these iconic games would still spark the same joy they did in the 1990s or if hours would be lost to playing them each day as was the case 20 years ago. However, one thing is certain. There are still some seriously diehard fans out there who refuse to live a life without blocky graphics, dinosaur eggs, and the sweet sound of Mario Bros. theme music.
10 Super Mario World
Mario and Luigi worked hard in their quest to save the Mushroom Kingdom from Bowser, but alas, their work was not done! The pair was destined for even more greatness with help from their dinosaur pal, Yoshi. So the three set off to rescue the recently kidnapped Princess Toadstool and once again bring peace and order to Dinosaur Land. Sound familiar? Chances are you or someone you know was majorly into this game in the ’90s.
From the iconic music to the kick-ass 2-D graphics, Super Mario World hooked fans almost immediately. The power-ups like Super Mushrooms, Fire Flowers, and Cape Feathers had players mad with excitement, and the constant acquisition of coins left many with sore thumbs.
It’s no surprise that this beloved game sold over 20 million copies. The game grew so much in popularity that an animated TV show called The New Super Mario World was created based on the plot of the game. Unlike the video game, which left a long legacy, the show only ran for one season.
9 GoldenEye 007
Everyone wants to be the suave and debonair James Bond or at least some version of him. For many in the late ’90s, that wish came true, sort of. GoldenEye 007 for the Nintendo 64 console gave players the opportunity to do what Bond does best, shoot things with a lot of different kinds of weapons. The main objective of the game was to lead Agent 007 through 20 different missions with a large cache of weapons from grenades to submachine guns, all requiring reloading once their ammo had been depleted.
The game allowed for multiplayers (four max) to play simultaneously, and gamers could set the level of difficulty they wanted from “Agent” to “00-Agent.” The first-person shooter technology that GoldenEye used was quite ahead of its time, and the game stayed very true to the film it was based on. The game was a huge commercial success and sold over eight million copies worldwide. As of mid-2016, the game goes for about $275 on Amazon.
8 Pokemon Red And Blue
To say Pokemon was an international sensation is an understatement. This tour de force had kids and many adults going absolutely insane for many years. Whether it was the television series, the trading cards, or the many generations of video games that spanned Pokemon’s life thus far, these little Japanese creatures have left a very strong impression on fans. Pokemon Red and Blue were the first two releases in Nintendo’s Pokemon franchise. The player must go on a journey to collect, train, trade, and master as many of the creatures as possible.
The world of Pokemon is soon explored by the player as he or she travels to various places like Cerulean City and Lavender Town, growing your Pokedex, defeating leaders, and becoming a Pokemon Master. All with Pikachu at your side. Although the games were a huge hit, a few glitches were discovered and exploited by users, making some matches less than fair. Red and Blue sold millions of copies worldwide, and the creators have recently rereleased the Red, Blue, and Yellow games this year to celebrate 20 years of Pokemania.
This science fiction and horror-themed video game made a huge splash in the gaming community for paving the way for first-person shooter games. The first version was released for PC users and heralded as a great feat in software engineering. The player could choose between one of four off-duty soldiers embroiled in a multidimensional war. As demonic creatures close in on the soldiers, the player’s character must keep the monsters from invading Earth and destroying the planet.
The game was very well received and scored an 86 percent on GameRankings.com. To some, DOOM was simply a video game where you could shoot evil creatures from the netherworlds, but to others, it is considered one of the most influential games to date.
DOOM coined the term “deathmatch,” allowing multiple players to slaughter each other at the same time. DOOM was so widely played that many companies were forced to ban play during working hours because of clogged networks and many hours of lost productivity.
6 Sonic The Hedgehog 2
Sonic and Miles “Tails” Prower are living their lives peacefully until one day when Sonic’s friends begin to disappear and it’s up to a little, blue, lightning-fast hedgehog and his trusty, two-tailed fox sidekick to save the day. As evil metal robots began appearing (formerly the animals of the forest) everywhere, Sonic and Tails realize that crazy scientist Dr. Robotnik is responsible. The two pals must stop the mad scientist from completing the Death Egg and taking over the world by getting to the seven Chaos Emeralds first and freeing the animals from Robotnik for good.
Gamers would push the game cartridge in, fire up their Genesis system, and the adventure would begin. Players were able to perform multiple Sonic stunts such as “super spin attack,” “super twist,” and “pinball attack” and traveled from zone to zone trying not to lose their three lives.
Sega, the maker of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and Nintendo had an intense rivalry in the ’90s. As a result, Sega spent $10 million on the ad campaign to launch the new Sonic game, a hefty chunk of cash for 1992. The game ended up selling more than six million copies and helped Sega catch up to Nintendo in the “console wars.”
5 Kirby’s Dream Land
The first video game in the Kirby series hit the shelves in the early ’90s for Nintendo Game Boy. Kirby—a small but mighty roly-poly creature—was on its cover welcoming gamers of all ages and skill levels to explore Dream Land with the lovable, little cloud ball.
Kirby is more powerful than his marshmallow appearance lets on. He had the ability to suck up his enemies like a vacuum and spit them out at other foes. He could also inflate himself, which gave him the power to fly. To complete all four stages of the game, Kirby used his talents to take on King Dedede, the despot of the story, who has stolen all of Dream Land’s food.
The game takes players through different settings in Dream Land, including castles, forests, caves, and dungeons. While Kirby trudges forward on his quest to battle Dedede, he comes into contact with different items such as tomatoes, candy, and curry and battles baddies who are bent on stopping him.
The music in the game was extremely upbeat and cheery, matching the different game scenes perfectly. Unlike the other games in the Kirby series, the original Dream Land did not offer Kirby’s copying power, an ability that later became a trademark move.
4 Mortal Kombat
Otherworldly creatures with supernatural fighting powers and exceptional martial arts skills face off against each other in a deadly brawl on a remote island in this epic arcade game. A powerful sorcerer known as Shang Tsung has held the tournaments for 500 years and delights in watching contestants destroy one another and deliver the final, fatal blow known as the finishing move.
Gamers got the chance to feel like expert fighters against opponents by using martial arts moves like roundhouse kicks, crouching blocks, flying punches, and high punches. Players will face many combatants on their way to the final match against Shang Tsung.
Players were able to choose between seven characters, all with unique abilities as well as basic fighting skills. The realistic graphics (for the time) and the loads of violence caused quite a bit of controversy among parents. Many felt the game was glorifying murder and encouraging violence, an argument that persists today regarding much of what is displayed on television and in the gaming world.
Some of the most notably violent moves in the game were the abilities to rip out an opponent’s heart and decapitate them with bare hands, displaying the severed head as a trophy. Not exactly the kind of stuff that Mario and Luigi’s dream are made of.
3 NBA Jam
Remember stuffing quarters into the machines at arcades for hours? Despite weighted-down pockets and constantly pleading with parents for more quarters, there never seemed to be enough coins to satiate the desire to play certain games.
Enter NBA Jam. This basketball arcade game brought many sports game firsts into the world, such as playing with real licensed NBA teams and players that actually resembled their real-life selves. With four joysticks, friends could go at it, dunking on one another and shooting multiple buckets in a row to earn the power-up known as “on fire.”
Rather than having 5-on-5 games, NBA Jam was designed to play 2-on-2 basketball. Although the rosters were real, the rules were not. The game allowed players to basically do whatever they wanted with no fouls called and no free throws. The only two rules that the game maintained were shot clocks and goaltending.
NBA Jam quickly became popular among arcade goers and non-sports fans alike and is considered one of the highest-earning arcade games of all time. The world of basketball shall be forever grateful for the addition of NBA Jam phrases like “He’s heating up,” “He’s on fire,” and “Boomshakalaka!”
2 The Legend Of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time
Although many came before it and several have come after it, the fifth installment of the Zelda series, Ocarina of Time, was truly visionary. Once the Nintendo 64 was powered up and ready to go, players would begin the game as a child in the forest but would later wear many hats—becoming a fisherman, errand boy, and a traveling mask salesman.
Ocarina of Time was the first game in the series with 3-D graphics, a feat for game designers at the time. As Link travels through Hyrule with the Spiritual Stone of the Forest and his companion, Navi, players are led through dark dungeons, fiery volcanoes, haunted deserts, and even through time on a quest to rescue Princess Zelda.
Zelda fans went absolutely nuts for the game. The video game was released in November 1998, and before the year was through, Nintendo had sold over 2.5 million copies and raked in $150 million.
Ocarina of Time even managed to gross more than the blockbuster film A Bug’s Life, which hit theaters that same year. Even though Ocarina of Time was released just 39 days before the year came to a close, it still managed to be the biggest-selling video game of 1998 and the fastest-selling game of all time.
1 Mario Kart 64
This go-kart racing game was released in Japan in 1996 and in North America and Europe in 1997, and to say that it made a splash in the video game scene is a colossal understatement. One of the most memorable aspects of the game was the epic sound track composed by Kenta Nagata. Whether it was slipping on a banana peel, driving through item boxes, or just cruising down the Rainbow Road in the Special Cup course, the music does not disappoint.
Players have the option to choose from eight different characters to race with, and each has their pros and cons. Some found Bowser and Wario too heavy to accelerate quickly while many felt their size came in handy for ramming other characters’ karts. In addition to selecting a character, gamers could also choose the size of their kart engine (50cc, 100cc, or 150cc), the game mode (Mario Grand Prix, Versus, Battle, and Time Trials), and the course.
As players zip through courses dodging the shells, the walking bombs, and the big, chained, barking ball things, they can also activate some pretty cool tricks like turbo drifting, shortcuts, and drafting. In this version, the addition of the blue spiny shell meant to hit the character in first place caused quite a stir among players. Many found it to be unfair, and no doubt lots of obscenities came pouring out of gamers’ mouths after impact.
Although the game did not gross as much as many other video games in the 1990s, the addictive quality of Mario Kart has never really faded. It is still enjoyed today by both older and younger generations and, of course, stoners.
Lee is a freelance writer with an inquiring mind. She is stoked the ’90s are making a comeback.