What was it Like Playing Video Games in the 90s? - Prima Games

What was it Like Playing Video Games in the 90s?

by Prima Games Staff

When you’re done, check out this totally rad 80s video game feature.

Ah, the 90s, a time when special effects hit their stride in movies like Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park, and bands like Pearl Jam and Nirvana left their mark on pop culture. In addition, video games helped define the decade, and we took a trip back in time to look at the 38 best moments in 90s gaming history.

When Tony Hawk Skated into our Hearts…and Consoles

Activision’s Tony Hawk Pro Skater, which arrived in 1999, redefined skateboarding games, with detailed parks and insane tricks. Remember the first time you pulled off Hawk’s 900? Dude!

When Sony’s PlayStation Grabbed 3D by its Polygons


“You are not ready!” deemed Sony’s advertising, but indeed we were. The PlayStation’s 1995 debut introduced incredible games on discs, with eye-popping 3D and crystal-clear audio. Battle Arena Toshinden! What!?

Granted, other systems contributed to the CD revolution, but Sony’s was the clear winner.

When Street Fighter 2 Dominated Arcades

In 1991, Capcom evolved the fighting game genre with the well-received sequel, Street Fighter 2. Not only did it bring big business to arcades, it also gave the SNES a boost with a perfect home port almost a year later.

When Mortal Kombat Introduced us to “Fatality!”

As much as we enjoyed Street Fighter 2, Midway took fighting to a whole new level with the entertaining Mortal Kombat, a fun martial arts brawler with fatal consequences. Ripping out someone’s spine with Sub-Zero was legendary. The home versions were mixed – the SNES version was a sweat-fest, while the Genesis version was perfect, provided you entered the ABACABB blood code. Controversial? Yes, but so much fun.

When Lara Croft Captured our Imaginations

Video game icons come and go, but some last forever. Among them is Lara Croft, the star of Eidos’ thrilling Tomb Raider. Even though she was a little blocky back then, there was no doubt she could kick as much butt as Indiana Jones. She certainly had the, ahem, assets.

When Konami Delivered Superb 2D Castlevania Fun

After a lukewarm debut on the Nintendo 64, Konami and producer Koji Igarashi gave fans the classic Castlevania game they deserved – a captivating, deep and exploration-worthy sequel called Symphony of the Night. Seventeen years later, it’s still one of the best entries in the franchise.

When Four-person Goldeneye 64 Kept us Awake All Night

After dominating PCs, the first-person shooter finally arrived on consoles in fine form with Rare’s Goldeneye 64. Based on the film of the same name, it redefined design, controls and most importantly, split-screen multiplayer. Plus, paintball. No one can resist.

When Nintendo Blew Your Mind with Super Mario 64

Nintendo needed a killer game to launch alongside its Nintendo 64 system, and the company delivered with the brilliant Super Mario 64. This wondrous 3D adventure offered surprises at every turn, along with unprecedented gameplay that made the plumber feel right at home in the new dimension.

When Sega went 128-bit

As much as the PlayStation defined a new world of gaming, the Dreamcast did the exact same thing in 1999 with a next-generation design and approach, complete with online multiplayer and some of the finest graphics around.

When Nintendo Encouraged You to Catch ‘Em All

Nintendo is known for several long-time franchises, but the 90s brought a surprise out of the woodwork – the animal-catching game, Pokemon, where players collect monsters and pit them against fellow trainers. Since Red and Blue, the franchise has amassed millions of fans around the world, as well as countless sequels, including this year’s Pokémon X and Y. Plus, we have to admit, Twitch Plays Pokémon is a complete trip.

When Square Took Final Fantasy to the Next Level

After spending so long on Nintendo consoles, Square Enix (known as SquareSoft at the time) finally brought Final Fantasy to the PlayStation with a much-heralded seventh chapter. Not only did it feature superb gameplay and visuals, but also several dramatic moments – including the crushing death of Aerith. You wept, right?

When Capcom Gave Birth to Survival Horror

It was tough to find a genuinely scary game in the 90s. Then came a little surprise called Resident Evil in 1996, and the rest is history. Though primitive by today’s standards, the gameplay and shocking moments added up to a worthwhile experience, with fans exploring a zombie-filled mansion. The master of unlocking approves.

When Donkey Kong Country Breathed New Life into SNES

In the mid-90s, there was much talk about next-gen gaming, between the 3DO, the Jaguar and Sega’s 32X. However, Nintendo managed to slip a banana peel on these guys with Rare’s fantastic Donkey Kong Country, a game that looked, sounded and played like a next-gen beast. In addition, who can deny Cranky Kong’s complaints? No one.

When Sega Introduced All Those Genesis Add-Ons

In the early 90s, Sega flourished with its 16-bit Genesis console, but then it created weird and unnecessary add-ons to heighten the experience, including the FMV-laden Sega CD and the odd 32X plug-in. Sometimes, simple is better.

When Everyone Took Sides in the 16-bit Console War

Nintendo ruled much of the 80s. By the 90s, Sega left its mark with the Genesis and butted heads with the Super Nintendo for years. It was a war with plenty of surprise hits – and consumers ultimately emerged victorious. You know, when they weren’t getting into fights at school over which system was superior.

When Crash Bandicoot Invaded Nintendo

Naughty Dog made a fine debut on the PlayStation with Crash Bandicoot, but Sony’s commercials for the game managed to gain plenty of attention. A guy in a Crash Bandicoot costume parked right outside Nintendo’s headquarters and talked smack. Such a great idea.

When Soul Calibur Made Jaws Drop

Namco left its mark in the fighting game market with a pair of entries – Tekken and Soul Calibur. While the first earned its fair share of acclaim, it was Soul Calibur that turned the most heads. Its debut on the Dreamcast not only introduced a true next-gen fighter, but also became one of the system’s greatest highlights.

When Sega Surprise Launched the Saturn

In the summer of 1995, Sega caught consumers – and retailers – completely off-guard with an early launch of its Saturn console, rushing to a next-gen market ahead of the PlayStation. However, Sony responded with more games, a lower price point and most importantly, strong third-party support.

When Valve Introduced us to Mr. Freeman


In 1998, Valve unleashed the unique and enjoyable Half-Life, a first-person shooter that helped redefine PC gaming. In addition, the team also worked its magic on the multiplayer shooter Counter-Strike, which still remains a popular to this day. Now where’s Half-Life 3?

When You Played Games on Demand with the Sega Channel

In the mid-90s, Sega introduced the first on-demand game service with the Sega Channel, allowing users to download popular and exclusive games through their cable connection. In addition, they could also get tips while waiting for their downloads – something that would be pretty handy on the Xbox One and PS4, if you ask us.

When You Enjoyed Co-Op in the Arcade

The 90s brought several great four-player games to the arcades, between Capcom (Captain Commando, Alien vs. Predator), Konami (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Sunsetriders), Data East (Captain America & the Avengers), Atari (Cyberball) and so many others. Now that’s how you get people together without online play.

When You Played and Loved All Those Genesis Sequels

1992 is a year that Sega Genesis fans won’t forget, as the era of sequels introduced quality titles to the system. Games like Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Streets of Rage 2 (awesome) and World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck helped usher in a popular new era for Sega and its development teams. It was, indeed, a glorious year.

When Nintendo Invented the True Selfie with Game Boy Camera

Way before anyone thought taking selfies was cool, Nintendo’s Game Boy Camera turned the handheld game system into a picture-taking tool of genius. The mini-games and options that came with it made the peripheral cooler than it first appeared. Smile!

Finding the Star Road in Super Mario World

Super Mario World was Nintendo’s effective way of entering the 16-bit market, with numerous secrets and entertaining gameplay. However, only the most devoted players could find all the levels hidden within the Star Road. Have you found them all yet?

When Playing Ocarina of Time Made You Want an Actual Ocarina

Mario wasn’t the only household Nintendo name to make his way to the 3D realm. In 1998, the publisher introduced the superb The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and changed, well, everything. With a splendid quest, solid gameplay and plenty of secrets, the game is still considered one of the best adventures ever made. Plus, you totally wanted to buy an Ocarina. Admit it.

When You Used Memory Cards

Today, we have the convenience of cloud saves. Back in the 90s, however, we had to take our memory cards along for the ride, whether it was a 32-slot PS One unit or that awesome VMU Dreamcast memory card with the video screen. We really loved that thing. In fact, we still used memory cards as far as the Xbox 360 in 2005.

Discovering the Glorious Import Scene

The 90s introduced gamers to purchasing titles overseas because they never came out for the U.S. market. Saturn owners are well aware of this, ordering such gems as X-Men vs. Street Fighter and Radiant Silvergun for top dollar, all for the sake of some incredible game experiences. Never mind if you could read the manual – there’s gaming to do!

Square’s Golden RPG Era on SNES

Well before it established itself as a household name on PlayStation, Square Enix created a legacy on the SNES that would remain unmatched. If the Final Fantasy games weren’t awesome enough, then certainly original efforts like Secret of Mana and Chrono Trigger were.

When NFL Gameday Beat Madden at its Own Game

It’s not often you see an underdog triumph in the video game industry, so how crazy was it when Sony’s NFL Gameday for PS One wound up being so good? For a first try, the company did very well – so well, in fact, it forced EA Sports to shut down production on Madden NFL ’96 and return a year later. Granted, the dominance was short-lived, as Gameday faded into obscurity. Still, for one year, that underdog had its moment.

When Arcade Racing Became Super Cool

The 90s were a superb era for racing games. Sega got out of the gate first with the fully 3D Virtua Racing, before continuing to define the genre with such multiplayer efforts as Sega Rally (“very long easy right baby!”) and Daytona USA. Soon enough, Sony would get a turn, teaming up with Polyphony Digital for the impressive Gran Turismo. It was a great time to be a racing fan.

When You Were ON FIRE and Unlocked Bill Clinton in NBA Jam

When it came to multiplayer party games, nothing came close to Midway’s NBA Jam. Getting its start in arcades, the fun would soon shift to home consoles, thanks to Acclaim and Iguana Entertainment, with a wild home port for SNES and Sega Genesis; even Game Gear and Game Boy received ports. You could even unlock Bill Clinton and Al Gore. ”Kaboom!”

When Nick Arcade Put Your Most Wanted Games on Display

In the 80s, several shows tried to nail down gaming. However, in the 90s, Nickelodeon produced a memorable game show called Nick Arcade, where contestants not only answered game-oriented questions, but also played several high profile titles and took on a real live challenge at the end. Don’t get burned!

When You Picked up a Video Game Magazine for Strategies

Back when gamers were really stuck on a game, they didn’t have the convenience of Internet hint sites to turn to. Instead, there were many magazines to lean on, such as GamePro, EGM and Gamefan Magazine – a classic! Of course, you could also buy strategy guides from Prima.

When You Beat Super Metroid…What an Ending

Nintendo’s epic sequel is full of outstanding moments, especially one in particular. Just when Mother Brain had Samus Aran down for the count, ready to finish her off, along comes – the Baby Metroid! That provides just enough of an opening for Samus to finish the job, despite the sacrifice of her would-be child. It was one of the best endings to a game.

When You Argued Over Which Aladdin Game was Better

Finally, both Sega and Capcom managed to produce great side-scrolling platformers based on the hit Disney movie, Aladdin. While Capcom had its own team put together something special, Sega worked directly with the animation studio – and David Perry’s Shiny Entertainment – to make theirs click. The end result? Two great Aladdin games – although, c’mon, the Genesis version is better, right?

When Pro Wrestling got Real with WCW vs. NWO World Tour

If anything, the N64 had the greatest four-player games on the market. Case in point, WCW vs. NWO World Tour. This over-the-top wrestling extravaganza delivered insane moves, weapons and intense two-on-two action. From this one game, we scored such classics as WCW vs. NWO Revenge, WrestleMania 2000 and the absolute peak of wrestling games, No Mercy. We can’t begin to imagine how many hours we spent drop kicking friends and busting them open with chair shots. Outstanding games.

When You Danced the Night Away in Dance Dance Revolution

Even the most uncoordinated gamer could cut a rug in Konami’s outstanding Dance Dance Revolution, thanks to a sweet-looking arcade machine with attached arrows that players stomped to the beat. This game not only ruled arcades in the late 90s, but also ignited the aforementioned import scene, as we rushed to buy the game and high-priced peripherals from Japan. Thankfully, Konami brought the franchise to consoles in the west, complete with dance mats.

When DOOM Made PCs Cool

Wolfenstein 3D was great fun, but id Software’s DOOM was by far the most influential FPS of the 90s. This brutal game captured players’ imaginations as they investigated a seemingly abandoned facility, only to find it overrun by demons from hell! Plenty of intense gunfights and gore ensued, and the addition of online co-op and four-person deathmatches were huge. Then id released the source code, inspiring countless developers to evolve the genre even further. Without question one of the most influential games of all time.


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