Like all veterans in the games industry, Nintendo has had its ups and downs. Something like the Wii U, for example, didn’t exactly set the world alight, but the Switch did. There is a similar level of varying quality when it comes to games published or developed by the company.
The ’90s were one of the hottest times for Nintendo. Because Nintendo has truly established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the gaming world. So many fantastic Nintendo games have been released, some of which have stood the test of time. The following deserves to be considered the best.
May 23, 2023 By Ben Jessey: The ’90s were a very powerful time for the Nintendo brand. After all, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Nintendo 64 both came out during that decade.
Along with them came a number of great games published or developed by the company. We’ve included only the best of them in this collection. However, some fantastic things are still missing. So we’ve now updated the fragment to add them.
13 Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow (1998 and 1999)
It would take a great game to spawn an entire media franchise that does exactly what the trio of Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow did. In Japan, the game was released in 1996 and was called Pocket Monsters Red and Green. However, it was renamed Red and Blue for North American release before Yellow came out the following year.
Despite being technically three games, they are all essentially the same despite some slight differences. Receive a starting Pokemon from each, fight rivals, cause trouble for Team Rocket, and attempt to beat all the best Pokemon Gym leaders.
12 Donkey Kong 64 (1999)
The ’90s was arguably the best decade for everyone’s favorite video game primate, Donkey Kong, and the rest of the Kong family. During this time, the Donkey Kong Country series and Diddy Kong Racing were introduced to the world. But the character’s best title from the ’90s is his first 3D adventure, Donkey Kong N64.
3D Donkey Kong didn’t become popular the way 3D Mario or 3D Zelda did. But this platform-gathering competition is a ton of fun and feels unlike anything Donkey Kong has done before and since.
11 Banjo Kazooie (1998)
A Nintendo series that is sometimes forgotten is Banjo-Kazooie. The first installment in the series was released in 1998 and is a 3D collecting competition featuring a bear named Banjo and his good friend Kazooie, a bird.
Together they overcome obstacles, solve puzzles and fight bosses in a bright and colorful world. It’s a bit like Donkey Kong 64, but Banjo’s adventures came first. In fact, it has set a new standard for this type of game. Super Mario 64’s status as a collector’s competition is debatable.
10 Earthbound (1995)
Better known in Japan as Mother 2, there’s something special about this whimsical RPG and related franchise. It was met with little success when first released in North America in 1995, but has since garnered numerous enthusiastic fans.
Bizarre marketing campaigns, absurd dialogue, and sentient battles with puddles of vomit? It sounds perfect. Without this game the world would be the Super Smash Bros. world it is today. There wouldn’t have been any angry Ness players spamming PK Fire in Ultimate, which would be a very sad loss to the gaming world. The only thing that isn’t considered Nintendo’s best is really EarthBound’s relative obscurity.
9 Star Fox (1993)
In 1993, 3D games were in their infancy and developers started exploring this new concept. Star Fox, a rail shooter reminiscent of space, was Nintendo’s first title to use polygons…
But that doesn’t matter. Importantly, this iconic title introduces many classic Star Fox elements, including Fox McCloud himself, his friends Peppy Hare and Falco Lombardi, and the still snorting Slippy Toad, Arwings. Time, Star Fox was quite an achievement. It’s a shame the franchise is so underrated today.
8 Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996)
Of course, these days we’re used to seeing Mario appearing almost everywhere. His spin-offs and cameo appearances have covered just about every possible genre. There’s absolutely nothing that the mustachioed maestro can’t turn his hand around.
But in 1996, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was released. Developed by Square (now Square-Enix), purveyors of the beloved Final Fantasy franchise, this game is a role-playing title with true RPG elements. Its sense of humor and solid, inventive gameplay remain fond memories, but it has been usurped from the spotlight by spiritual successors such as the Mario & Luigi games.
7 Super Mario World (1991)
In Japan, Super Mario World didn’t really creak until the 90’s (November 1990). However, the North American release date was 1991. Super Mario World needs no introduction and is still considered by many fans to be Mario’s best 2D platforming adventure to date.
Brilliant and colorful visuals, addictive music, tons of tricky secret sections waiting to be discovered… In short, a Mario master class. What really underpins Super Mario World is the fact that its reputation is ahead of its time. It’s come out too often since its original release and has lost some impact as a result.
6 Super Metroid (1994)
Super Metroid can claim to be the Super Mario World of the Metroid franchise. It represents the culmination of the 2D adventures of Samus Aran, the ass-kicking, gum-chewing bounty hunter. The presentation is top-notch and still holds up well today, and the atmosphere is second to none.
Samus’ lonely adventure in Zebes is symbolic. That heroic little Metroid vainly chewing on Mother Brain to give Samus a chance to destroy the threat? A wacky little alien hasn’t struck a chord with us since ET called home. It’s a great and innovative title, but its thunder has been stolen a bit by the Metroidvania imitators and the Metroid Prime series.
5 Golden Eye 007 (1997)
ah yes GoldenEye 007. No Nintendo 64 catalog retrospective would be complete without looking back at one of Rare’s finest achievements to date, this fantastic FPS. Gamers all over the world have wasted countless hours shooting the damn Oddjob and his slap-slapping hitboxes.
Like many games from that era, going back to today feels very primitive, but it’s unfair to pit 20+ years of technological advances against it. Despite its many shortcomings, GoldenEye pioneered many of the single and multiplayer elements of FPS titles that are still standard today. The genre owes it a huge debt of gratitude.
4 Super Smash Bros. (1999)
Released just before the new millennium (January 1999), Super Smash Bros. was another N64 title that would make an even bigger impact than anyone expected. Everyone wants Smash Bros. I know the settings. A group of Nintendo Legends and their friends battle through a series of wacky stages and try to knock each other off the screen with powerful smash attacks.
Is it a fighting game? Is this a party game? It depends on who you ask. But it’s definitely a phenomenon. However, the original, with a total of 12 playable characters, seems ridiculously limited today. Nonetheless, it deserves praise for its lasting impact.
three Super Mario Kart (1992)
Mario Kart is one of Plumber’s most legendary spin-off series, all originating in 1992’s Super Mario Kart. Mode 7 games may look glitzy today, but there’s no denying that the effects were suitably impressive in the ’90s. The pseudo 3D effect it made possible actually made the racing game come alive and gave it a sense of speed.
Super Mario Kart implemented this super well and still has a lot of fun with noodles. The sheer success of the Mario Kart franchise says a lot about the impact of Super Mario Kart itself today.
2 Super Mario 64 (1996)
In any discussion of Nintendo games from the 90s, you’ll hear the name Super Mario 64. What can we say about this groundbreaking title that hasn’t been covered countless times already? Mario’s first adventure in a brave new 3D world was the essential N64 choice.
Games like Super Mario Galaxy and the brilliant Super Mario Odyssey are built on the near-impeccable foundation laid by this 1996 gem. Yes, like all early 3D games, it has its weaknesses, but it is a masterpiece. That’s why it’s still one of Mario’s best 3D efforts.
One The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
To be considered simply one of the best The Legend of Zelda games is an impressive feat given the strength of the series. But Ocarina Of Time goes one step further and is known as one of the greatest games of all time.
It was Nintendo’s first shot at a 3D entry in the series, and it went on to make more of an impact. In fact, it’s more common to see 3D Zelda games than 2D these days. This is because Link’s quest to unite the Seven Wise Men and seal away the evil of the mighty Ganondorf was a remarkable feat. It’s old now, but it’s still a long, endlessly enjoyable, and utterly unforgettable adventure.
Next: Best classic split-screen games from the 90s