There are many metrics for measuring the quality of something, but there is a difficulty that faces gamers and critics when discussing the best classics due to the inherent obsolescence of a tech-driven form of entertainment. While many games may have been great in their day, technology has moved on and provided gamers with the benefit of hindsight, allowing us to see past gimmicks and games sold on pure graphical prowess alone. The best ’90s video games in terms of timelessness are those that still provide a dynamic gaming experience and engaging gameplay without the need to merely rely on nostalgia to motivate the gamer to play them. The following list of ’90s video games highlights those titles that stand the test of time and give us reason to keep those old home gaming systems around and enjoy the enduring beauty of well-crafted gameplay and engaging graphics that hold their own against the photo-realistic visuals of today’s games.
Nights Into Dreams – Sega Saturn (1996)
Nights was Sega’s attempt at creating a mascot of sorts for their ill-fated Saturn game console. The title failed to create the mass affection enjoyed by Mario, Sonic, or even Crash Bandicoot, but the title became an instant cult-classic and delivered a surreal gaming experience with beautiful environments that still captivate even the most jaded gamers.
Lunar: The Silver Star – Sega CD (1993)
Working Designs brought many epic RPGs over to the United States, but Lunar: The Silver Star stands atop the company’s heralded library of iconic titles. The depth of this game, its sprawling storyline, intricate character development, and brilliant gameplay design combine to create one of the most lasting RPGs of all-time and certainly one of the most timeless video games of the ’90s.
Doom – Multi-Platform (1993)
Doom was originally released for the PC in 1993 and received conversions to just about every console on the market in the ’90s. While the game’s graphics, storyline, and depth were all surpassed in short notice, the purity of the Doom game engine makes it one of the most enduring remnants of the ’90s gaming scene.
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 – Sega Genesis (1992)
Sonic the hedgehog blasted onto Sega’s Genesis in 1991 and made Sega a true contender against Nintendo, and Sonic a legitimate foe of Mario. The second installment of Sonic the Hedgehog kept all of the original’s speed intact while offering more diverse levels in terms of graphical flair and gameplay design. The brilliance of this game’s level design becomes clear as you speed across the screen hitting platforms, spirals, and corkscrews with ease, using momentum as your friend.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – Nintendo 64 (1998)
The Nintendo 64’s library was lacking in quantity, especially compared to the monster library of the system’s chief rival, the Sony PlayStation. What the system lacked in quantity, it made up for in quality and this Zelda title was chief among those AAA games. The surreal worlds and beautiful balance of action/adventure with RPG and puzzle elements made it a title accessible by all and the exploration provided by the game’s perfectly tuned engine has yet to be surpassed.
Chrono Trigger – Super Nintendo (1995)
Chrono Trigger revolutionized the way gamers viewed RPGs, but it is not merely heralded for nostalgic purposes, as the title provides modern gamers with many hours of enjoyment. Square’s active battle system provides a level of engagement that few RPGs have managed to rival and Chrono Trigger’s side-quests and multiple endings ensure the replay factor is through the roof.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past – Super Nintendo (1991)
Nintendo’s Zelda franchise offered a more accessible alternative to the pure RPGs delivered by Square and Working Designs. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was based around an action/adventure game engine but provided a compelling storyline and large worlds, giving it the feel of a traditional RPG but with gameplay that was more accessible to mass audiences.
Super Mario 64 – Nintendo 64 (1996)
The first wave of 3D games for fifth-generation consoles is defined by disposable titles that sold merely on their then-impressive graphical prowess; many of those titles are rendered relics of their time and left out of the video game canon. Super Mario 64’s intriguing gameplay and saturated colors make it a title that is still 100% playable to this very day. Shigeru Miyamoto is a genius when it comes to developing the types of games that can be played decades later without feeling dated.
Super Mario World – Super Nintendo (1991)
Side-scrollers seem “old hat” to most gamers but the pure gaming experience that Nintendo delivered with this Super Nintendo title stands the test of time better than most video games, particularly a launch title. The game mechanics offer just enough puzzle-solving elements to add depth without detracting from the brilliantly executed side-scrolling mechanics. Graphically, Super Mario World’s vivid color palate and subtle scaling effects show the honest beauty of well-designed 2D pixel-based visuals.
Virtua Fighter 2 – Sega Saturn (1995)
Sega released multiple installments of Virtua Fighter after this iteration, but Virtua Fighter 2’s fighting game engine was so well-tuned that the game rises above subsequent releases and their flashier graphics. Yu Suzuki’s masterpiece offers gameplay that takes minutes to learn but a lifetime to master and the depth means that the game grows with the player. Virtua Fighter 2 was devoid of combo gimmicks, flashy lighting effects, and fireballs; the title just offered one of the most perfectly tuned fighting game experiences ever.
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