The 1990s was a big decade for the video game console market. So much progress was made from where we started in 1990 and ended in 1999.
We don’t see that much progress in video games between decades currently even though technology has advanced greatly since the ’90s.
Now I know several consoles on this list are not the most popular and people dump on them all the time. It has almost become popular to seek out some of these older, lesser-loved systems just to present how “bad” they were.
However, these consoles are still loved by many and it only takes a bit of research to realize that good games do exist for them and they definitely have their place on this list. So set your preconceptions aside, We are going to look at nine of the
Best Video Game Consoles from the 1990s.
If you have watched the Angry Video Game Nerd when he covered the CD-I then you may think I am pulling your leg. However, the CD-I was more advanced than many people realize.
Did the CD-I suck when you look at it as just a video game console? Nobody can argue against that. But the CD-I could do much more than play video games and there were some good titles games released on the CD-I.
What was the media for the CD-I released on? Everybody will say compact discs and that is wrong. The name of the console “CD-I” is a disc format, but they can do more things than CD’s possibly could.
CD-I stands for Compact Disc Interactive. If you were browsing through photo galleries or watching full-motion videos on CD-I then you have all the options you would if you watched a movie on a DVD player.
The audio of the CD-I was also very good and since you could interact with the content, that is how the CD-I was able to play video games. The CD-I players and DVD players were very much alike but the CD-I came out in North America in 1991. DVD players wouldn’t arrive in North America until six years later.
If the CD-I was never created, we might not have had movies come out on DVDs. If the deal with Nintendo and Sony had never happened, would Sony be one of the major companies selling home consoles next to Microsoft and Nintendo?
Remember it was the CD-I game system that Sony was creating which was going to be a CD-based add-on for the Super Nintendo. When that deal didn’t happen, Sony’s “CD-I” became the PlayStation.
Also, there were good CD-I games. Everyone brings up the three Zelda games and while they are the worst games in the Zelda series, other games were much worse.
Nobody talks about Pac-Panic, Mutant Rampage: Bodyslam, Burn Cycle, and Ram Raid which are games that deserve a try. To be honest even Hotel Mario can be fun in short bursts.
This was the console that referred to the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis as baby toys.
This 3DO boasted about their graphic capabilities when everyone was let down with how Sega CD games ended up being displayed. This console could handle Full Motion Video in their games and the quality was really good.
When the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation came out, the 3DO had already gotten a head start on those consoles by being released earlier and having better games at the time of the release of those consoles.
While some feel the hardware of the console was not as good as what was being offered by the Saturn and Playstation, it was still impressive for the time.
Some bad decisions led to the downfall, starting with the fact that only one game was available during launch, and the price point was twice as much as the PlayStation and Sega Saturn when those consoles launched.
The console gave birth to a little racing game called “The Need For Speed”, which could be played with a steering wheel that was built for the console.
Another great game that came out late in the life cycle of the 3DO was “Road Rash”. This was the first version of the game to feature true 3D environments. Also, not all the Full Motion Video games were bad. If you were looking for a good one on the 3DO then you should check out “Snow Job.”
The purpose of the Sega CD was to extend the life of the Sega Genesis/Mega Drive. Everybody was expecting the games to have Full Motion Video but many games had videos that were either poor quality or not full screen.
The biggest benefit was the sound because the CD ROM player added cd quality audio, music, and voice-over. You could also listen to the music on a CD if you put it inside the Sega CD (which was a big deal at the time).
The Sega CD did have good games. “Sonic CD” is still regarded as one of the best Sonic The Hedgehog games ever released. “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” was a side-scrolling adventure and you would have to beat up bats. There were cutscenes from the movie in the game although the clips from the movie were low quality, it was still something you could not get anywhere else.
Another game that gets a lot of hate but is fun once you know how to play it is “Sewer Shark” which was the pack-in game for every Sega CD console. Trust me, I’ve been to Solar City a few times.
Like RPGs? Popful Mail, Shinning Force, Lunar, Lunar 2, Vay, Dark Wizard, Eye Of The Beholder. No console had a better selection at the time. Not even close.
There was also a Sega CD game made that changed video games forever. This was the video game “Night Trap.” Night Trap game was attacked with claims of violence that had it removed from shelves.
There were hearings where the game was criticized by Senators and other people and in the end, a good thing came out of these hearings. Night Trap was the reason that a rating system (the ESRB) was created for video games.
The 32X was doomed to fail from the beginning because when the 32X was released, people knew the Sega Saturn was going to be arriving shortly. That is why many people didn’t pay any attention to the 32X. But was the Sega Saturn worth waiting around for?
The system did have some interesting features and if more people purchased it I think we would have seen a lot more development on the platform.
The controller had a six-button layout which was great for fighting games. The controller also had shoulder buttons and nobody was doing six-button layouts at the time except for Sega.
Another “advantage” that the Sega Saturn had over the PlayStation was that Sega Saturn had built-in memory so you could save your game data. The drawback to that feature was when the battery in the back of your console died, all your saved games would disappear so your game data was only safe as long as that battery was alive.
There were several big popular franchises like Night Into Dreams, Virtua Fighter, and Panzer Dragoon which you could only get on the Sega Saturn. While those series kept fans happy initially, it was the lack of games afterward that made people unhappy with the Sega Saturn.
But there were other great games on the Saturn worth checking out like Albert Odyssey: Legend Of Eldean, Burning Rangers, and Virtua Cop.
Want to play arcade games at home? Not a “port” that has been stripped down in every area from gameplay to graphics, I mean a real arcade game, on your TV, at home.
That is the Advanced Entertainment System.
SNK’s home console was a powerhouse. Not only did the console have the power of an MVS arcade unit, but it skipped on the traditional console controllers and went with full arcade sticks that matched the layout and quality of its arcade counterpart.
SNK was also the first home console to offer a memory card. The card could store about 50 games and SNK installed memory card slots into their MVS cabinets as well so that gamers could bring their save data from home.
Not only did SNK bring the power of the arcade home, but They also brought games. SNK is probably the most underrated video game developers of the 90s.
Neo Geo has always been know for its fighters, like KOF, Samurai ShowDown, and The Last Blade to name a few, but really they excelled in just about every genre. Run and Guns, Beat ’em ups, Shmups, and even sports.
Unfortunately, all this came at a price. It was expensive. The machine alone was 600 dollars US and about $200 for the games, it was just not in most people’s budget.
There was one criticism in the early days of Nintendo 64 when people found out it was still using cartridges when their competitor’s units, (Saturn and PlayStation) were disk-based.
Even though the games were on cartridges, some games required memory cards if you wanted to save your progress while some games were saved on the cartridge.
The N64 was the only console at the time to have its controllers come in a wide range of colors at launch. The controller had a six-button layout with the A button, B button, and C buttons. That would be great for fighting games like Killer Instinct and Mortal Kombat.
There was an analog stick and a D-Pad, with a very unique and innovative setup that several games would take advantage of.
Professional Wrestling games would use the D-Pad to move while the analog stick would be how you taunted your opponent.
Fighting games would use the analog stick to move around your opponent but the D-Pad could be used to move around the environment.
Other than that, the analog setup was so good that there wasn’t much use for the D-Pad.
It console itself had a slot for an “Expansion Pak” module that increased the system memory. The Expansion Pak was required for certain games. The Perfect Dark single-player campaign would not be available if you didn’t have an Expansion Pak. The other three games that required an Expansion Pak were Donkey Kong 64, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, and Dinosaur Planet.
Despite using cartridges, the Nintendo 64 was a success greatly due to its library. Everyone remembers Super Mario 64 and the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Everyone remembers playing Goldeneye 007 in split-screen multiplayer with their friends. Some franchises like Super Smash Bros. had their first game on the Nintendo 64.
If you have to go out of business in the video game console market, you might as well go out with a bang! That is what happened when the Dreamcast was released as the final console from Sega.
The Dreamcast had four controller ports like the N64, and there were online servers that supported some games. There are rumors that private servers for specific games are still running.
So with Dreamcast being the first console to get “seriously” involved with online gaming, how could the Dreamcast fail?
The main reason for the Dreamcast’s failure is that the fan base for Sega felt like they were misled and this lead to fewer units being sold.
Regardless of how you felt about the Sega CD, people were told the 32X would be the future and it wasn’t. People were told the Sega Saturn would be the future and it wasn’t. By the time Dreamcast came, people felt like they were fooled one too many times.
Besides being a pioneer in online gaming, Dreamcast was able to match the graphics and sound we would see in arcade cabinets. If you compare WWF Royal Rumble on the Dreamcast to an arcade cabinet, the quality looks and sounds the same so you can play arcade calibur games at home if you had a Dreamcast.
Besides Sonic Adventure, other great Dreamcast games were Crazy Taxi, Powerstone, Resident Evil Code Veronica, and Gauntlet Legends to name a few.
Without a large enough fan base, and other next-gen consoles hot on their heels, interest in the Dreamcast started to fade away as quickly as it came. Not everybody was happy that the company discontinued the machine and too many, the Dreamcast is still considered the best console of all time.
The Super Nintendo (Super Famicom in Japan) is the best Nintendo console released in the 1990s. Everything great about the NES was improved upon when the SNES arrived.
Not only was the Super Nintendo controller much more comfortable to hold than the original Nintendo controller, but the SNES controller had two extra face buttons and two triggers on top of the controller.
Nintendo’s top competitor at the time already had the Genesis playing games in 16-bit, and the Super Nintendo was Nintendos’ much-needed answer to Sega’s head start. The Super Nintendo also had an eject button when you wanted to remove cartridges so you didn’t have to struggle to remove cartridges like the NES.
Even in the early days, Nintendo experimented a lot with add-ons and “gimmicks” that some might have seen as a risk. Some of the more successful ones were the Super Game Boy which allowed you to play Game Boy games on your Super Nintendo or the mouse that was only compatible with two games. One of those games being the ever-popular Mario Paint.
After the rampant piracy on the NES, Nintendo included a lockout chip on the Super Nintendo, and in the end, only one unlicensed game was released in North America.
There were so many great games on the Super Nintendo that everyone could find something they would like.
However, games like Chrono Trigger, Super Mario World, The Legend Of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Super Castlevania IV, and the Donkey Kong Country trilogy were just a handful of games that everyone had to have.
The PlayStation was originally going to be an add-on for the Super Nintendo. When that didn’t happen, Sony reworked their plans and the PlayStation was released a few years later. This was the launchpad for the popular home console lineup of Sony that continues today.
The original controller had four face buttons, four shoulder buttons, two analog sticks, and a D-Pad with a select and start button. The controller has followed the same format for five generations. There may have been a slight modification so you can turn the console on with the controller and the controller may be wireless but other than that, the controller has remained the same.
This console was the launchpad for franchises like Spyro The Dragon, Tomb Raider, and Crash Bandicoot. Metal Gear as a franchise on Nintendo was dead but the series was revived as Metal Gear Solid. There were FMV clips in games like Road Rash and wrestling titles and the video would be in good quality. This was also the console that started the Grand Theft Auto series.
There weren’t many roleplaying games on the Nintendo 64 except Quest 64 but Final Fantasy VII came on the PlayStation and Final Fantasy became more popular than ever before. I could keep going on about all the different series that either launched or were revived on the PlayStation but that is why it’s the best. How many of these games would we have missed out on if there was no PlayStation?
These are my nine best consoles of the 1990s. Shout out to the Atari Jaguar that almost made the list but was lacking the games.
During the decade, there were thirty consoles released and seven consoles canceled before their release. Some people may re-arrange this list of their favorite consoles in the 1990s but when you are talking about classic consoles that had the biggest impact, I believe this is the order these consoles belong in.