The ’90s were a magical decade for video gaming as technology began advancing at a rapid clip, allowing the video game experience to grow with each advance in processing power, storage capability, and graphical detail. During the ’90s, there were plenty of “me too” franchises that rode the success of the innovators, but there were also plenty of titles that advanced the gaming world and forever changed it. The following 10 ’90s video games are considered by many to be the most influential of the decade as they not only changed the industry for a few years but their effects were felt for multiple console generations after their initial release. These 10 classic video games from the ’90s laid the groundwork for many of the modern AAA titles that we play today.
John Madden Football – Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo (1990, 1991)
While the latest installment of Madden has little in common with the original John Madden Football that graced the Sega Genesis in 1990 and the Super Nintendo in 1991, the game’s impact can still be felt to this day. Prior to John Madden Football’s release, football video games were designed around arcade mechanics with little to no regard for realism. With the release of Electronic Arts’ John Madden Football, American football titles started to focus on simulation aspects, moving away from the Tecmo Bowl blueprint.
Daytona USA – Sega Saturn (1995)
While racing games shifted toward the simulation end of the spectrum after the release of Gran Turismo, the influence of the arcade-style Daytona USA cannot be overstated. The game introduced the world to cars with dynamic physics models, albeit very unrealistic. The graphics may seem dull now, but upon release, Daytona USA packed impressive visuals that showed the world just how much depth could be portrayed with texture-mapped polygons, ushering in a new era of arcade and console gaming.
Metal Gear Solid – Sony PlayStation (1998)
The action-adventure genre was advanced with the release of Metal Gear Solid and its revolutionary brand of stealth gameplay. Metal Gear Solid’s intricately crafted storyline, cinematic cut-scenes, and compelling voiceover work gave it a sense of realism that advanced the action-adventure genre and forever shaped the future of gaming.
Virtua Fighter – Sega Saturn (1995)
While the visuals of the original Virtua Fighter arcade game looked like Lego men even in 1993 and appear even more dated today, the game ushered in the era of 3D polygonal gaming. This title changed the fighting genre and without it there would be no Tekken. More broadly, it was the success of the game and the solid execution of the production that showed the industry that 3D polygonal models could add depth to the gameplay in addition to the visuals.
Resident Evil – Sony PlayStation (1996)
Survival-horror games were largely seen as a niche sub-genre prior to the release of Resident Evil. While titles like Alone in the Dark garnered a cult-following, Resident Evil brought the sub-genre to mainstream gaming audiences. Resident Evil shocked ’90s gamers with its brooding feel, haunting tones, and frightening-at-the-time atmosphere. It was the first time that a game truly focused on delivering the video gamer an environment with feeling.
Final Fantasy VII – Sony PlayStation (1997)
Final Fantasy VII was a game changer for the video game industry. The game’s solid execution was felt in all realms of the production ranging from the then-stunning visuals, beautifully orchestrated soundtrack, well-tuned gameplay mechanics, and thoroughly developed storyline. What really made the game one of the most influential video games of the ’90s, and of all-time, is the fact that it popularized Japanese-style RPGs in the United States.
Gran Turismo – Sony PlayStation (1998)
The release of Gran Turismo changed the way gamers and the industry viewed racing games more than any other single video game has been able to alter the landscape of an entire genre. Prior to the release of this hyper-realistic simulation, racing games were arcade-inspired with little regard for realism. Gran Turismo made gamers appreciate the nuances of each car’s handling traits and did so in a way that was enjoyable. How could anyone claim that this classic title is not one of the most influential racing games of all-time and one of the most influential video games of the ’90s? It merged car geeks and video game geeks.
Super Mario 64 – Nintendo 64 (1996)
Prior to the arrival of Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64, most 3D worlds in video games were defined by their wonky controls. Leave it to Shigeru Miyamoto to handle the task of creating fluid and intuitive controls in a fully 3D world. The wonderful gameplay mechanics of the title combined with precise controls to move gamers into fully 3D environments with ease.
GoldenEye 007 – Nintendo 64 (1997)
GoldenEye did not create the first-person shooter but it refined it to a point that the genre experienced a sea-change after its release. Prior to the release of this smash-hit, first-person shooters were largely defined by run-and-gun play mechanics, but GoldenEye made players approach challenges in a more stealth and strategic manner.
Shenmue – Sega Dreamcast (1999)
Sega’s Yu Suzuki built a career around developing arcade hits, but he brought his development expertise to new levels when he embarked upon the creation of this gem. Shenmue forever changed the notion of adventure games by creating real-time environments with dynamic worlds and offering players a sandbox style environment to experience it all. Shenmue was revolutionary upon release and to this day the Sega title’s influence can be felt throughout the industry.
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