Grab a roll of coins and get ready to insert plenty of credits as we check out the best 90s arcade games!
Though the golden age of arcade gaming – kickstarted by games such as Space Invaders and Pac-Man (for more on the still-popular, hungry yellow hero, check out our best Pac-Man games list!) had come and gone by the 90s, that’s not to say that some of the best arcade games ever made – even some of the best games period – came to arcades after the 80s boom had dissipated.
Several 90s arcade games made it to our best arcade games list, but what would that list look like if we could only choose games from the 90s? Wonder no more, as we check out the best 90s arcade games!
10. The Simpsons (1991)
Konami produced a number of highly regarded, 4-player (or more!) licensed arcade titles in the 90s – The Simpsons being one of them.
Generally taking the form of scrolling beat ’em ups – which is the genre The Simpsons arcade game belongs to as well – Konami had a knack for making the most out of every license, whether that was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men or, yes, The Simpsons.
They nail the style of the cartoon incredibly successfully in every way, from the Matt Groening-style visuals to the soundtrack. Konami’s experience with scrolling beat ’em ups really does shine here too, with brilliantly satisfying gameplay that’s just as fun today as it was back in 1991.
Sure, a case could be made for another one of Konami’s 90s beat ’em ups to be included here, but this one just pips the others in our opinion – Konami really did wonders with a license that didn’t necessarily lend itself to being translated into arcade game form.
The dedicated cabinet was beautiful too – so that’s a further reason that The Simpsons made it to our best 90s arcade games list!
9. Puzzle Bobble (1994)
Bubble Bobble is undoubtedly one of the best arcade games of all time – and has perhaps the most maddeningly catchy music too!
Though Bubble Bobble did have a number of sequels (including Rainbow Islands and Parasol Stars), stars Bub and Bob rarely appeared in dinosaur form again – but they feature prominently in this genuinely addictive puzzle game that spawned legions of imitators.
Bub and Bob operate a strange, bubble firing contraption at the bottom of the screen. The aim is to fire coloured bubbles at the ever-descending mass of bubbles at the top of the screen.
Match three or more of the same colour and they pop, sometimes causing other bubbles to drop off too. Clear the screen in puzzle mode and you go to the next stage. However, if the bubbles reach the bottom of the screen, it’s game over.
That’s it in a nutshell, but Puzzle Bobble also features a head to head mode against AI or another player – and it’s an absolute blast to play. Though its soundtrack doesn’t quite reach Bubble Bobble levels of earwormery (yep, that’s totally a word now!), Puzzle Bobble has catchy music that adds immeasurably to the charm and appeal of this timelessly classic game.
8. Virtua Fighter 2 (1994)
2D fighters by the likes of Capcom and SNK were still going strong when Virtua Fighter burst onto the scene in 1993. Though series such as Street Fighter, Fatal Fury and others retained their own audiences (partially due to their speed and elaborate combo systems), there’s no denying just how impressive Virtua Fighter was when it arrived and kickstarted the 3D fighting game subgenre.
As the first fully polygonal 3D fighting game, it was a technical marvel; its fluid character animation and impressive camera swooping around the action was jaw-dropping in the early 90s.
Naturally, it was a huge success.
Virtua Fighter 2 then arrived a year later and our jaws hit the floor again – with texture mapped 3D characters who were animated using motion capture, it felt like a big visual leap over the original game. The addition of combos that were easier to execute – and even counters being added to the repertoire of moves on offer – meant that the gameplay got a nice upgrade along with the visuals too.
7. Point Blank 2 (1999)
Namco’s contribution to video gaming can’t be understated. Having been responsible for the phenomenon that was Pac-Man (which continues to be one of their most popular franchises – take a look at our best Pac-Man games list for more on those!), they have also brought an incredible number of popular franchises to arcades (and home consoles) over the years.
Even before their Time Crisis games hit arcades, there was the first Point Blank in 1994. A playful, colourful and anarchic lightgun shooter, the best way to describe Point Blank would be to think of it as a sort of two player WarioWare with guns (though it can, of course, be tackled alone). Each short, timed stage feels so wildly different from the last – you’ll encounter shooting galleries with cardboard cut out targets, accuracy tests, memory games and more – each featuring wacky scenarios and hilarious animated touches.
This sequel takes the goofy, cartoony magic of the original and turns it up to eleven – with more of everything on offer. It’s an addictive, challenging and seriously competitive game despite its cute exterior – and its pixel art visuals have aged a lot more gracefully than the 3D games of the era.
Point Blank 2 is a game that almost demands to be played whenever it’s encountered in the wild; like many games on this best 90s arcade games list, it’s timeless and just as fun to play today as it was upon release.
6. Mortal Kombat II (1993)
The original Mortal Kombat caused quite a stir when it first came out in 1992. Its digitised visuals, combined with graphic, bloody violence – including decapitations and much more besides – lent it an instant, edgy appeal to young arcade-goers. Its ‘realistic’ violence (which seems incredibly tame these days) also sparked a huge amount of controversy – that almost single-handedly led to the creation of video game age ratings in the US.
Though Mortal Kombat’s gameplay wasn’t quite on the level of the masterful Street Fighter II, its innovations – such as bloody Fatality finishing moves – meant it complemented Capcom’s series and offered something that felt noticeably different to the usual, fairly sanitised combat of 2D fighting games.
As good as it was, Mortal Kombat was soon overshadowed completely by its own sequel, which arrived just a year after the first game. The second game expanded the roster of available Kombatants (yes, that’s how it was spelled in the game!) from seven to twelve, massively improved the number of attacks available to players and added even more secrets to uncover than in the first title.
In addition to being able to discover hilariously gory Fatalities – some of which could be stage-specific, taking advantage of scenery such as spikes or acid pools – there were genuinely inventive and amusing finishers on offer too. Babalities (in which your opponent would be turned into a harmless baby version of themselves) and Friendships – harmless moves where your character would offer a gift to the loser or dance for them, for example – both helped to counter the image of the first Mortal Kombat game as a relentlessly, irredeemably violent game that sought to corrupt the world’s youth.
5. Ridge Racer (1993)
Though far from the first 3D, shaded polygon-based racing game to hit arcades (another Namco title – Winning Run – from way back in 1988, holds that distinction), Ridge Racer was the first arcade game to feature texture-mapped polygons, which gave it an incredibly realistic look and feel. From a technical perspective, it was absolutely jaw-dropping to see in motion; it was streets ahead of any other game when it first came out.
It helped that the straightforward, drifting-based gameplay felt perfectly tuned too; it was smooth, fast and incredibly addictive.
Ridge Racer also came in a Full Scale version – and when we say full scale, we mean it. Players got to sit in an actual, full size car (a red Mazda MX-5, the same as the in-game player car) and a passenger could even come along for the ride! The ignition key started the game and the gear stick, pedals and wheel were the actual game controls too. The game played out in front of the car, on a ten foot wide screen – and surround sound speakers added to the amazing sense of immersion.
Though Ridge Racer was a superb game no matter what version you played in the arcade, the Full Scale version was hands down one of the best arcade experiences ever.
4. Time Crisis II (1997)
Not only another Namco game – but another Namco lightgun game makes it to the best 90s arcade games list!
Time Crisis arrived in 1995 and was immediately praised for its visuals, gameplay and the unique use of a foot pedal, which players operated in order to take cover and reload. There was just one thing missing that stopped it short of being a classic (and which lost it a place on this list): a two player mode.
That was rectified with this sequel, which featured the same fast paced, addictive shooting gameplay – but allowed two players to take on the bad guys at once. One of the coolest aspects of Time Crisis II – thanks to each player having their own machine, pedal and screen – was each player being able to approach action scenes from different vantage points, sometimes opposite each other. It added a really unique aspect to the gameplay and meant that you could even accidentally shoot your partner!
Time Crisis II, despite being 25 years old, is still a brilliantly playable, incredibly addictive game to this day – and a clear choice as one of our best 90s arcade games!
3. Crazy Taxi (1999)
Before the likes of GTA 3 really defined open world, non linear gaming, titles such as Sega’s Crazy Taxi offered what felt like an incredible amount of freedom in picking up – and dropping off – passengers to a strict time limit.
It’s a game very much of its time, with a late 90s, licensed punk soundtrack (featuring bands such as The Offspring), contemporary fashion in its character design and even real world brands in-game such as KFC and Pizza Hut.
Though its open city may seem tiny by today’s standards, it’s full of secrets to uncover, as well as feeling amazingly vibrant and alive. Sega blue skies and incredibly fast-paced, addictive gameplay cement Crazy Taxi as an absolute classic; its sequels, despite being technically superior and much bigger, failed to recapture the magic of this first entry in the series.
2. The House of the Dead 2 (1998)
Featuring at the very top of our best zombie arcade games list, The House of the Dead 2 is another Sega game, another lightgun game and a title that, despite being a bit dated from a technical perspective, still has everything where it counts: brilliant gameplay.
The House of the Dead series is renowned for cheesy storylines, awful voice acting and terrible scripts – all of which give the game an unintentionally hilarious, B-movie style feel. The chunks of gore and blood add to the video nasty ambience too; it’s an incredibly entertaining game to play, alone or with a partner.
Though fewer in number these days – thanks to a decline in the arcade scene – lightgun games are still popular, as the genre is practically impossible to experience at home, thanks to HDTVs making most lightguns obsolete.
The House of the Dead 2 is a product of an absolute golden age for arcade lightgun games – where Sega and Namco ruled the roost with incredible titles such as Virtua Cop, Time Crisis, Ghost Squad and more.
For our money, The House of the Dead 2 is the absolute best of the lot – and more than deserves its place right near the top of the best 90s arcade games list!
1.Street Fighter II (1991)
It’s not hyperbole to say that Capcom’s Street Fighter II revived the flagging arcade scene almost single handedly when it arrived in 1991.
With home consoles becoming more powerful and offering more immersive experiences with great longevity, arcades had lost a bit of their lustre. Even Capcom’s original Street Fighter, though successful, didn’t attract much attention beyond the arcade faithful.
Yet Street Fighter II became an undoubted cultural phenomenon, spawning the fighting game genre as we know it today. Street Fighter II’s innovations – many of which we probably take for granted today – included a large (for the time!) selection of playable characters, wildly varying styles of play for every character, lots of special moves to discover, animated backgrounds that felt full of life and character themselves and, accidentally as it turns out, combos.
Competitive multiplayer was such a strong point of the game that it spawned the enormous fighting game tournaments that are held worldwide on a regular basis.
Street Fighter II spawned numerous new editions, bootlegs (a knock off arcade board that speeded the action up led to the official Turbo Edition being created) and sequels; the Street Fighter series still endures to this day.
Its impact on an entire generation of gamers was absolutely huge – and the aftershocks continue to be felt, three decades later.
What’s more, though it lacks certain features we might have come to expect from fighting games these days, Street Fighter II still plays like an absolute dream and its iconic audiovisual design is still excellent. It’s a clear choice for the very top of the best 90s arcade games list!
Jason – who lives in the UK – has had a lifelong interest in video games, which all started when he discovered Space Invaders in the early 80s. The first game he ever completed was Wonder Boy in Monster Land on the Sega Master System – which remains one of his proudest gaming achievements. Jason is a passionate writer – and has been writing about gaming since the late 90s. He currently runs pop culture blog midlifegamergeek.com, which he updates on a daily basis (and has written more than 700 articles on the blog alone!).
Outside of video games, Jason is a keen tabletop gamer, film buff and comic book fan.