Nintendo, like all gaming industry veterans, has had its ups and downs. For example, the Wii U didn’t exactly set the world on fire while the Switch did. There is a similar degree of varying quality when it comes to games published or developed by the company.
The 90s were one of the hottest times for Nintendo, as it really established itself as a force to be reckoned with in the gaming world. So many fantastic Nintendo games have hit the shelves, and some have stood the test of time. The following deserve to be considered the best.
Updated May 23, 2023 by Ben Jessey: The 90s were a very strong time for the Nintendo brand. After all, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the Nintendo 64 were released in this decade.
With them came a large number of wonderful games published or developed by the company. We have included only the best of them in this collection. However, some fantastic ones were still missing. So now we’ve updated the part to add them as well.
13 Pokemon Red, Blue and Yellow (1998 and 1999)
It takes a great game to create an entire media franchise, which 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 Yellow was released the following year.
Although they are technically three games, they are essentially all the same despite some minor differences. In each of them, you receive a starter Pokemon, fight a rival, cause problems for Team Rocket and try to beat all the best Pokemon Gym Leaders.
12 Donkey Kong 64 (1999) subtitles – download subtitles
The 1990s may have been the best decade for everyone’s favorite video game primate, Donkey Kong, and the rest of the iconic Kong family. During this period, the Donkey Kong Country and Diddy Kong Racing series were introduced to the world. Still, his best 90s title is his first 3D adventure, Donkey Kong N64.
3D Donkey Kong didn’t catch on in the same way that 3D Mario or 3D Zelda did. However, this platformer is a lot of fun and feels different from anything Donkey Kong has done before or since.
11 Banjo Kazooie (1998)
A Nintendo series that is sometimes forgotten – perhaps even by Nintendo itself – is Banjo-Kazooie. The first installment in the series came in 1998 and is a 3D collect-a-thon featuring a bear named Banjo and his good friend Kazooie, who is a bird.
Together they overcome obstacles, solve puzzles and fight bosses throughout the bright and colorful world. It is somewhat similar to Donkey Kong 64, but Banjo’s adventure was the first. In fact, it set a new standard for these types of games – Super Mario 64’s status as a collector’s game is debatable.
10 EarthBound (1995) subtitles – download subtitles
Better known as Mother 2 in Japan, there’s something about this quirky RPG and related franchise. It wasn’t a huge success when it first launched in North America in 1995, but has since earned legions of devoted fans.
Bizarre marketing campaigns, absurd dialogue and battles with sentient pools of vomit? Sounds perfect. Without this game, the world today wouldn’t have pissed off Ness players spamming PK Fire in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and it would be a very sad loss to the gaming world. EarthBound is actually just a relative obscurity that keeps it from being considered Nintendo’s best.
9 Star Fox (1993) subtitles – download subtitles
In 1993, 3D gaming was in its infancy and developers were just beginning to explore this new concept. Space-tinged rail shooter Star Fox was Nintendo’s first title to use polygons, and… well, needless to say, it’s not the prettiest thing you’ll ever see.
But that doesn’t matter. Significantly, this iconic title introduced so many classic Star Fox elements: Fox McCloud himself, his friends Peppy Hare, Falco Lombardi and Slippy Toad, the Arwings still snarling, … given the primitive tools they had to work with at Star Fox was quite an achievement. It’s just a shame that the franchise is so underappreciated these days.
8 Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996)
Of course, these days we’re used to Mario appearing almost everywhere. His supporting and cameo appearances covered almost every genre imaginable. There’s nothing the mustachioed maestro can’t turn his hand to.
In 1996, however, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was a revelation. Developed by Square (now Square-Enix), purveyors of the wildly popular Final Fantasy franchise, it’s a role-playing title with authentic RPG chops. His sense of humor and solid, creative gameplay are fondly remembered, but spiritual successors like the Mario & Luigi games stole the limelight.
7 Super Mario World (1991)
In Japan, Super Mario World just creaked in the 90s (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.
Sharp, colorful visuals, infectious music, tons of tricky, secret sections waiting to be discovered… in short, this is a Mario masterclass. All that really holds Super Mario World back is the fact that its reputation precedes it. It has been featured a little too often since its original release and has lost a bit of its impact as a result.
6 Super Metroid (1994)
Super Metroid is, you could argue, the Super Mario World of the Metroid franchise. It culminates the butt-kicking, bubblegum-chewing 2D adventures of bounty hunter Samus Aran. The presentation is superb, it still holds up very well today, and the atmosphere is second to none.
Samus’ lone adventure on Zebes is quite iconic. That heroic little Metroid fruitlessly chewing on Mother Brain to give Samus a fighting chance to destroy the threat? A strange little alien hasn’t tugged at our heartstrings this much since ET called home. A great, innovative title, although somewhat stolen by the many imitators of Metroidvania and the Metroid Prime series.
5 Goldeneye 007 (1997)
Ah, yes. GoldenEye 007 No retrospective of the Nintendo 64 catalog will ever be complete without a look back at 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 pain box.
Like a lot of games from the era, it feels super primitive when you go back to the present day, but it’s unfair to fault over two decades of technological advancement. Despite its many flaws, GoldenEye pioneered so many single and multiplayer elements in FPS games that are still the standard today. The genre owes him a lot of gratitude.
4 Super Smash Bros. (1999) subtitles – drag subtitles
Just before the new millennium (January 1999), Super Smash Bros. another N64 title that would prove far more influential than anyone could have expected. Everyone’s familiar with the Smash Bros. setup: a group of Nintendo legends—and friends—fight through a series of wacky levels, trying to knock each other off the screen with powerful punch attacks.
Is this a fighting game? Is it a board game? That depends on who you ask. It is definitely a phenomenon. However, the original, with its total roster of twelve playable characters, seems ridiculously limited today. Still, he deserves credit for his continued influence.
3 Super Mario Kart (1992)
Mario Kart is one of the most legendary plumbing spin-off series, and it all started in 1992 with Super Mario Kart. As complex as 7-mode games are today, there’s no denying that the effect was suitably impressive in the 90s. The pseudo-3D effects it enabled really brought racing games to life and gave them a sense of speed.
Super Mario Kart implemented this perfectly and is still a lot of fun to use. The very success of the Mario Kart franchise today speaks volumes for Super Mario Kart’s own influence.
2 Super Mario 64 (1996)
In any discussion of Nintendo games from the 90s, you’ll hear the name Super Mario 64. What can be said about this famous title that hasn’t already been covered countless times? Mario’s first adventure in a brave new 3D world was a quintessential choice for the N64 (not least because it was one of only two launch titles outside of Japan, the other being Pilotwings 64).
Games like Super Mario Galaxy and the brilliant Super Mario Odyssey built on the near-flawless foundation laid by this gem from 1996. Yes, it has its flaws like all early 3D games, but it’s a masterpiece. That’s why it still ranks among Mario’s best 3D ventures.
1 The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (1998)
To be considered one of the best Legend Of Zelda games to date is an impressive feat given 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 attempt at 3D input into the series, and it influenced many more. In fact, it’s more common to see a 3D Zelda game than a 2D one these days. That’s because Link’s quest to unite the Seven Sages and seal the evil of the mighty Ganondorf was (and remains) a stunning achievement. It may be showing its age, but it’s still a long, endlessly enjoyable, utterly unforgettable adventure.
NEXT: The best classic split-screen games from the 90s