Ranking The Best Nintendo Games Of The 90s

Nintendo, like all veterans of the gaming industry, has had its ups and downs. For example, games like the Wii U didn’t exactly light up the world, while the Switch did. There is a similar level of varying quality when it comes to the games the company has published or developed.

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The 90’s were one of Nintendo’s hottest periods as this was when it really established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the gaming world. As such, so many great Nintendo games have hit shelves, and some have withstood the test of time. The following deserve to be considered as the best.

Updated May 23, 2023, by Ben Jessey: The 90’s were a very strong time for the Nintendo brand. After all, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Nintendo 64 were released in that decade.

With them came a significant number of wonderful games that the company published or developed. We put only the best of them in this collection. However, some fantastic ones were still left out. So now we’ve updated the part to add those as well.

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13 Pokémon Red, Blue, and Yellow (1998 and 1999)

Pokemon Red and Blue screenshot of choosing launcher

It takes a great game to spawn an entire media franchise, which is exactly what the trio of Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow did. In Japan, the games were released in 1996 and were called Pocket Monsters Red and Green. But they were renamed Red and Blue for the North American release before the release of Yellow the following year.

Despite technically being three games, they are essentially the same, despite some minor differences. In each, you get a starter Pokemon, fight a rival, cause trouble for Team Rocket, and try to defeat all of the best Pokemon Gym Leaders.

12 Donkey Kong 64 (1999)

Donkey Kong 64 Monkey Rap screenshot

The ’90s were perhaps the best decade for everyone’s favorite video game primate, Donkey Kong, and the rest of the iconic Kong family. During this period, the world was introduced to the Donkey Kong Country and Diddy Kong Racing series. Still, the character’s best title of the ’90s is his first 3D adventure, Donkey Kong N64.

3D Donkey Kong didn’t catch on the way 3D Mario or 3D Zelda did. However, this platformer collector is a lot of fun and looks unlike anything Donkey Kong has done before and since.

11 Banjo Kazooie (1998)

Banjo gives a thumbs up in the wild

One Nintendo series that is sometimes overlooked – perhaps even by Nintendo itself – is Banjo-Kazooie. The first installment in the series arrived in 1998 and is a 3D collection starring a bear named Banjo and his good friend Kazooie who is a bird.

Together they traverse obstacles, solve puzzles and fight bosses in a bright and colorful world. It bears some resemblance to Donkey Kong 64, but Banjo’s adventure came first. In fact, it set the new standard for these types of games – Super Mario 64’s status as a collector is debatable.

10 Earthbound (1995)

of being earthbound in front of a house surrounded by flowers

Better known in Japan as Mother 2, there’s just something about this quirky RPG and the associated franchise. It had little success on its initial North American release in 1995, but has since garnered legions of devoted fans.

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Bizarre marketing campaigns, absurd dialogue and battles with sensitive puddles of vomit? It looks perfect. Without this game, the world would not have enraged Ness players by spamming PK Fire in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate today, and that would be a super sad loss for the gaming world. In fact, it’s only EarthBound’s relative obscurity that keeps it from being considered one of Nintendo’s best.

9 Star Fox (1993)

Star Fox Screenshot of the flying ship

In 1993, 3D gaming was in its infancy and developers were just starting to explore this new concept. The space shooter Star Fox was the first Nintendo title to use polygons, and… well, needless to say, it’s not the prettiest thing you’ll ever see.

This is not important, however. What matters is that this iconic title introduced so many classic Star Fox elements: Fox McCloud himself, his pals Peppy Hare, Falco Lombardi and the still snarky Slippy Toad, Arwings… time, Star Fox was quite an achievement. It’s a shame that the franchise is so underrated today.

8 Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996)

Screenshot of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Of course, these days, we’re used to seeing Mario popping up almost everywhere. Its spin-offs and cameos have covered almost every possible genre. There’s absolutely nothing the mustachioed maestro can’t fall back on.

In 1996, however, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was a revelation. Developed by Square (now Square-Enix), purveyors of the much-loved Final Fantasy franchise, it is an RPG title with genuine RPG characteristics. Its sense of humor and solid, creative gameplay are fondly remembered, but its spotlight has since been stolen by spiritual successors like the Mario & Luigi games.

7 Super Mario World (1991)

Super Mario World screenshot of Yoshi reaching for extra lives with Bullet Bill coming

In Japan, Super Mario World only reached the 1990s (November 1990). The North American release date, however, was 1991. Super Mario World is a game that needs no introduction and is still considered by many fans to be Mario’s best 2D platform adventure to date.

The crisp and colorful visuals, the catchy music, the plethora of tricky secret sections waiting to be discovered… it’s a Mario masterclass, in short. All that really holds Super Mario World back is the fact that its reputation precedes it. It has been released too frequently since its original release and has lost some of its impact as a result.

6 Super Metroid (1994)

Samus enters the wall-jumping room in Super Metroid, where three small creatures teach her how to wall-jump.

Super Metroid is, you could argue, the Super Mario World of the Metroid franchise. It represents the pinnacle of 2D adventures for bounty hunter Samus Aran, who kicks and chews gum. The presentation is top notch, still holding up very well today, and the atmosphere is second to none.

Samus’ lonely adventure in Zebes is simply iconic. That heroic little Metroid giving a futile Mother Brain chomp, to give Samus a fighting chance against the threat? A strange little alien hasn’t played on our hearts so much since ET called home. An excellent and innovative title, although its thunder has been stolen somewhat since then by reams of Metroidvania imitators and the Metroid Prime series.

5 Golden Eye 007 (1997)

An entire table exploding into pieces of GoldenEye 007.

Oh yes. GoldenEye 007. No retrospective of the Nintendo 64 catalog is complete without looking back on this fantastic FPS, one of Rare’s finest achievements to date. Players all over the world have lost countless hours of their lives trying to shoot that damn Oddjob and his headache hitbox.

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Like so many games from the era, it seems super primitive to go back to the present day, but it’s unfair to hold over two decades of technological advances against it. Despite its many weaknesses, GoldenEye pioneered many of the elements of single and multiplayer FPS titles that are still the standard today. The genre owes a huge debt of gratitude.

4 Super Smash Bros. (1999)

Super Smash Bros 1999 Screenshot of Mario Yoshi Link and Luigi

Arriving before the new millennium (January 1999), Super Smash Bros. was another N64 title that would prove far more influential than anyone could have really expected. Everyone knows the setup of Smash Bros.: a group of Nintendo legends – and friends – battle it out in a series of wacky stages, trying to knock each other off the screen with powerful smashing attacks.

Is it a fighting game? Is it a party game? This will depend on who you ask. It’s definitely a phenomenon, though. However, the original, with its total roster of twelve playable characters, seems ridiculously limited today. Still, it deserves praise for its continued influence.

3 Super Mario Kart (1992)

Frog racing in Super Mario Kart

Mario Kart is one of the plumber’s most legendary spin-off series, and it all started back in 1992 with Super Mario Kart. Now, as complicated as Mode 7 games can seem today, there’s no denying that the effect was impressive back in the 90’s. The pseudo-3D effects it made possible really brought racing games to life and gave them a real feel. of speed.

Super Mario Kart implemented this super well and is still a lot of fun to play. The massive success of the Mario Kart franchise today speaks volumes for the impact of Super Mario Kart itself.

two Super Mario 64 (1996)

Mario dodging a Chain Chomp in Super Mario 64.

In every discussion of Nintendo games from the 90s, you’ll hear the name Super Mario 64. What can be said about this historic title that hasn’t already been covered countless times? Mario’s first adventure into the brave new world of 3D was an essential choice for the N64 (not just because it was one of only two launch titles outside of Japan, the other being Pilotwings 64).

The likes of Super Mario Galaxy and the brilliant Super Mario Odyssey were built on the near-perfect foundation that this 1996 gem established. Yes, it has its weaknesses, like all early 3D games, but it’s a masterpiece. That’s why it still ranks among Mario’s best 3D efforts.

1 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina Of Time (1998)

Connect with Navi on Epona's back in The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time

Simply being considered one of the greatest Legend Of Zelda games of all time is an impressive feat considering the strength of the series. However, Ocarina Of Time goes further as it is known as one of the best games of all time.

It was Nintendo’s first chance at a 3D entry in the series, and it influenced many more. In fact, these days, it’s more common to see a 3D Zelda game than a 2D one. This is because Link’s quest to unite the Seven Sages and seal away the evil of the mighty Ganondorf was (and remains) an impressive achievement. It might be showing its age now, but it’s still a long, endlessly enjoyable, and utterly unforgettable adventure.

NEXT: Best classic split-screen games from the 90s

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