Like all veterans in the gaming industry, Nintendo has had its ups and downs. For example, something like the Wii U didn’t exactly brighten the world, 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 was one of Nintendo’s hottest years, and it was around this time that Nintendo truly established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the gaming world. That’s why there are so many great Nintendo games on store shelves, some of which have stood the test of time. The following deserve to be considered the best.
Updated May 23, 2023 by Ben Jesse: The 90s were a very strong time for the Nintendo brand. After all, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Nintendo 64 both came out in that decade.
Along with them came many great games published or developed by the company. This collection contains only the best of them. Yet some great stuff is still missed. So I updated this part to add those as well.
13 Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow (1998 and 1999)
It takes a great game to spawn an entire media series, and that’s exactly what the Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow trio did. In Japan, the game was released in his 1996 and was called Pokemon Red and Green. However, it was renamed Red and Blue for its North American release before Yellow went on sale the following year.
Although technically three games, they are all essentially the same, with some differences. In each game, you receive your first Pokémon, battle rivals, cause problems for Team Rocket, and try to defeat all the best Pokémon Gym Leaders.
12 Donkey Kong 64 (1999)
The 90s was probably 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 series and Diddy Kong Racing. But the character’s best title from the ’90s is his first 3D adventure, Donkey Kong N64.
3D Donkey Kong is not as popular as 3D Mario or 3D Zelda. But this platforming collectathon is a lot of fun and feels like nothing Donkey Kong has done before or since.
11 Banjo-Kazooie (1998)
The sometimes-forgotten Nintendo series—perhaps even Nintendo itself—Banjo-Kazooie. The first installment in the series came in 1998 with his 3D His Collectorson, starring a bear named Banjo and his best friend bird Kazooie.
Together they will overcome obstacles, solve puzzles and fight bosses in a bright and colorful world. Similar to Donkey Kong 64, but Banjo Adventures came first. In fact, it set a new standard for this kind of game. Whether or not Super Mario 64 has established itself as a collectible is debatable.
Ten Earthbound (1995)
Better known as MOTHER 2 in Japan, there’s just something about this quirky RPG and related series. It met with little success when it first launched in North America in 1995, but has since garnered a large following.
Fighting bizarre marketing campaigns, absurdist dialogue, and pools of vomit with emotion? Perfect. Without this game, the world wouldn’t be outraged by Nesplayer’s PK fire barrage in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate today, and that would be a very sad loss for the gaming world. The only reason EarthBound isn’t considered Nintendo’s best work is, in fact, EarthBound’s relative obscurity.
9 Star Fox (1993)
Back in 1993, 3D games were in their infancy and developers were just beginning to explore this new concept. Star Fox, a space-themed rail shooter, was Nintendo’s first title to use polygons…not to mention the prettiest thing we’ve seen.
However, it doesn’t matter. Importantly, this iconic title introduced so many classic Star Fox elements. Fox McLeod himself, his pals Peppy Hare, Falco Lombardi, and the still-sarcasm Slippy Toad, Arwings… Considering the primitive tools they had to work with, at the time Star Fox It was quite an achievement. It’s a shame that this franchise is so underrated today.
8 Super Mario RPG Seven Star Legend (1996)
Of course, these days we’re used to seeing Mario pop up everywhere. His spin-offs and cameo appearances cover every possible genre. Nothing is out of reach for the mustachioed maestro.
But in 1996, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was a revelation. Developed by Square (now Square Enix), the publisher of the much-loved Final Fantasy series, this game is his role-playing title with authentic RPG elements. It’s fondly remembered for its sense of humor and solid, creative gameplay, but that spotlight has since been usurped by spiritual successors like his games Mario & Luigi.
7 Super Mario World (1991)
In Japan, “Super Mario World” had just entered the 90’s (November 1990). However, the North American release date is his 1991. Super Mario World is a game that needs no introduction and is still considered by many fans to be Mario’s best 2D platforming adventure to date.
Crisp and colorful visuals, captivating music, tons of tricky secret sections to discover…in a nutshell, this is a Mario masterclass. The only thing really holding Super Mario World back is the fact that its reputation is ahead. Since its initial release, it’s been featured so often that it’s lost a bit of clout as a result.
6 Super Metroid (1994)
Super Metroid can be said to be the Super Mario World of the Metroid series. This represents the culmination of his 2D adventures as the butt-kicking, gum-chewing bounty hunter Samus his Alan. The presentation was and still is very good and the atmosphere is second to none.
Samus’ solitary adventure on Zebes is truly iconic. Will that heroic little Metroid nibble on the Mother Brain in vain to give Samus a chance to fight the menace? Weird little aliens haven’t touched our heartstrings since ET called home. A good and innovative title, but then lost a bit of its charm by Metroidvania imitators and Metroid his Prime his series.
Five GoldenEye 007 (1997)
oh yeah GoldenEye 007. No retrospective of the Nintendo 64 catalog would be complete without looking back at this fantastic FPS of his, one of Rare’s best achievements to date. Gamers around the world have spent countless hours shooting that damned Oddjob and his cheek-scratching hitbox.
Like many games of its time, it feels very primitive to go back to today, but it’s unfair to stand in the way of 20+ years of technological advancement. Despite its many shortcomings, GoldenEye pioneered many of the single and multiplayer elements of his FPS titles that are still standard today. I really appreciate this genre.
Four Super Smash Bros. (1999)
Just before the new millennium (January 1999), Super Smash Bros. was also a much more influential N64 title than anyone expected. Everyone knows the Smash Bros. setting. A Nintendo legend and a group of friends battle it out in a series of wacky stages, trying to knock each other off the screen with powerful smash attacks.
Is it a fighting game? Is it a party game? It depends on who you ask. That said, it’s certainly a phenomenon. However, the original included a total of 12 playable characters, which today seems laughably limited. Still, it’s worth admiring that it continues to be influential.
3 Super Mario Kart (1992)
Mario Kart is one of Plumber’s most legendary spin-off series, and it all started with 1992’s Super Mario Kart. Mode 7 games seem complicated today, but there’s no denying that in the ’90s, the effects were correspondingly impressive. The pseudo-3D effect this made possible gave racing games a sense of life and speed.
Super Mario Kart implemented this very well and is still fun to play. The sheer success of the Mario Kart franchise today speaks volumes for the influence of Super Mario Kart itself.
2 Super Mario 64 (1996)
Every time we discuss Nintendo games from the 90s, you’ll hear the name “Super Mario 64.” What can be said about this groundbreaking title that hasn’t been featured many times before? not just because it was one of the missing launch titles and the other was Pilotwings 64).
Titles like Super Mario Galaxy and the fantastic Super Mario Odyssey have built on the near-perfect foundation laid by this 1996 masterpiece. Yes, like his early 3D games, it has its flaws, but it’s a masterpiece. That’s why it still ranks among Mario’s best 3D creations.
1 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
Given the strength of the series, the Legend of Zelda being considered one of the greatest games of all time is simply an impressive feat. But Ocarina of Time is known to be one of the greatest games of all time, so it goes even further.
This was Nintendo’s first 3D work in the series and has inspired many more. In fact, we see more 3D Zelda games than 2D Zelda games these days. Because Link’s quest to unite the Seven Sages and seal the evil of the mighty Ganondorf was (and still is) an amazing achievement. It may look dated now, but it’s still a long, endlessly fun, and completely unforgettable adventure.
Next: The best classic split screen games of the 90’s