Games of the Decade, 1990-1999

As a finale to these lists I've slowly been compiling, I decided to combine a number of years into a single list. If I were to do each of these years individually, many would have fewer than ten games listed (1990 might have 4?). As an 80's baby, I also didn't have my own income to purchase games during this time frame. However, we didn't have the deluge of games coming out in the 90's that we do today.

List items

  • #10

    (1999)

    Really one of the first "immersive sims," System Shock 2 allowed the player the choice of multiple skills and options to tackle the game's challenges. The game had a creepy, metal edge to it, with your character sporting a gnarly cyber-neural interface. Although I'm not among those who consider it superior in any way to 2007's Bioshock, I feel that it was an important stepping stone for Ken Levine to further develop his craft.

  • #9

    (1998)

    Half-Life was a mood. an unnerving game featuring unsettling enemies like the legendary headcrab and barnacle. The game excelled at environmental storytelling that did not remove the player from the experience. It was unafraid to take its time in telling its tale, and rewarded the player with superb level design and creative weaponry for their patience. Lastly, Half-Life marked the first incidence of the series' distinctive sound design, which became as recognizable to its players as any sounds in the gaming landscape.

  • #8

    (1995)

    Much like the first game in the series, DKC2 had excellent music. Diddy was aware of this, hence the addition of a boombox to his end-level celebration. My favorite things about the title were the inclusion of two nimble characters, rather than one, and the ability for the player to inhabit various animals such as a spider, snake, or parrot. I always found Donkey Kong to be a little unwieldy in the previous game, and played as Diddy whenever possible. Not only does the player now control two nimble characters, but Dixie's ponytail glide is an absolute lifesaver, allowing the player to perform deft and precise aerial maneuvers.

  • #7

    (1992)

    This was one of the first video games I actually played, and I got it when I first got my hands on a Super Nintendo. I was struck by just how complex it was. Bouncing between the dark world and light, using various items to solve tricky puzzles, and observing and adapting to boss and enemy attack patterns. However, I stuck with it, eventually gaining proficiency and learning how to navigate the game's world. Link to the Past informed me of the potential of this medium.

  • #6

    (1995)

    Another game with excellent music - if there's a main takeaway here, it's that my favorite 90s games have bumping soundtracks. Yoshi's Island has a unique pastel graphical style, and features creative environments and enemies. I'll never forget the "baseball boys," who forced the player to modify their egg throws in order to get them out of the way. Baby Mario's cry was QUITE annoying, but it also spurred your Yoshi into action. You didn't want to hear that whine any longer than you absolutely had to.

  • #5

    (1997)

    It's impossible to divorce the game of Outlaws from the community in which I played. Outlaws was the first multiplayer FPS experience I ever had. Before we were shooting terrorists in Modern Warfare, we were shooting wild west ne'er-do-wells in Outlaws. The playable characters in multiplayer were distinct and unique, all specializing in a different weapon and playstyle. Using the Lawmaker program allowed players to create their own maps for the game, and indeed most of our time was spent in custom player-developed levels - I made a few myself as well. Although the single-player was really nothing to write home about, it did feature excellent animated cutscenes.

  • #4

    (1994)

    I loved baseball growing up, and so I played a lot of the baseball games that were released for earlier consoles. Although some of your more modern baseball sims give you control over every aspect of a franchise, there's something to be said for simplicity. This game takes an intuitive approach to hitting, pitching, fielding, and baserunning. Instead of picking which pitch you want to throw, you just hold the down arrow to make the pitch move more quickly and up to slow the pitch down. Want it to curve to the left? Hold the left arrow as the pitch approaches the plate. Want it to curve left and then right? You can do that too! The game had a super charming and cartoony graphical style, featuring exaggerated player physiques and gestures. Although there weren't a ton of tracks featured on the soundtrack, those that were present were absolute hits. The game also featured a home run derby mode, a unique inclusion in a game like this.

  • #3

    (1994)

    Although I can't say that I'm usually drawn to titles like this, that involve a lot of memorization and optimization, I stumbled on this one at the right time. I still remember each opponent that I got stuck on, and how a friend and I developed strategies to push through. As you gained proficiency, subsequent playthroughs made you feel like a virtuoso, dodging complicated combos and punching during windows of weakness. The opponents were distinctive and outlandish, and the animations for each were incredibly entertaining. Gabby Jay's "yay," Bob Charlie's "ooo, ooo," Super Macho Man's flexing, and Narcis Prince's preening. Although the SNES technology certainly wasn't that advanced, the animations and sound effects made Little Mac's punches feel quite powerful!

  • #2

    (1994)

    There was a time when I replayed this entire series every year on a SNES emulator. This is such an incredible platformer, featuring satisfying movement and crisp barrel blasts. Some gamers love DKC2 for the addition of the DK coin, but I found the enemies, level design, and music to be more memorable in the original. Donkey Kong Country is absolutely in the running for the best soundtrack I've ever heard in a game. It also featured fun and shiny graphics, managing to look better than almost any other game on the system. Why be a plumber when you can be a gorilla?

  • #1

    (1998)

    The first Red Alert game (1996) was a good time, featuring two distinct factions and amusing, campy FMV cutscenes. However, Starcraft was just heads and shoulders a better game. It featured three distinct factions instead of two, and I was struck by just how much the building architecture and unit design reflected the philosophies of the factions. Although it certainly wasn't as funny as Red Alert, it capably told a touching and complex story featuring intricate characters like Raynor and Kerrigan. Although there were a couple of niggling issues (Ultralisk pathing comes to mind), the gameplay was remarkably solid. My favorite unit remains the Protoss Carrier - although it's far from a perfect unit, I've always found its swarm of interceptors to be magnificently destructive.