Lists · Podcast Unlimited · Video games

The Top Twenty Arcade Games of the 1990’s


“Cause in sleepy London town
There’s just no place for a Street Fighting man.”

The Rolling Stones – “Street Fighting Man”

One of our more popular Top Ten lists is The Ten Twenty Favorite Arcade Games of the 1980’s. And just like in Hollywood, when something is popular, a sequel is inevitable. And since it’s so popular, and such a rich category, we’re not limiting ourselves to just ten. Once again, we’re turning it up to twenty.

I talked about how the arcade games reached a peak in the 1990s. At the turn of the decade/century/millennium, many genres of video games began to disappear. The only remaining games were fighting games, racing games, dance/rhythm games, and first person shooters. Filling the void in the arcades were crane games, skee ball, and basketball and/or football games which reward players with tickets. The arcades morphed into boardwalk carnivals. Just when I had enough money to play pinball, sports games and RPG video games, they disappeared.

As I said before, there will be no Podcast Unlimited or I, Omnibus Top Ten arcade games of the 2000’s.

If you ask me where I spent most of my free time during the 90’s, the answer is “at the arcades.” Granted, we’re only talking about seven locations in three states. I’ve been told that this sample size is too small. What can I say? I’m not taking a road trip to Twin Galaxies, when I’m in walking distance to one or more arcades. Yes, this includes the campus center arcade when I was in college – that does covers 40% of this decade. I have been informed by critics that this is not a large enough sample size to truly appreciate the global popularity of certain titles. And while I have no clue as to which U.S. titles became popular overseas, I am fairly sure that many, many foreign (mainly Japanese) games never got imported to the U.S. So if you want to make the case for any side-shooter or mah-jong title, please comment below

When this decade began, the arcades were dominated by side-scrollers, e.g.: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” There were two titles in particular, that were figurative and literal game changers. And the apotheosis of the fighting game genre began. (And even though this is written in 2016, this era still hasn’t ended.) This was also the era where the price for 1 credit rose from $0.25 to $0.50. And for certain sit-down games, one credit rose to $1.00. Sure the older games of the 80’s were still one quarter (e.g.: Ms. Pac-Man, Tetris, Galaxian), but any new game that was produced, was at least $0.50 to play. And sports games with 4 quarters, (basketball, American football) cost $2.00 for a full game. So Buckner & Garcia didn’t just need a pocket full of quarters when they headed to the arcade, they needed a bank roll of quarters. Or they could have just used a twenty-dollar bill at the change machine.

In regards to sports games, not only did the graphics improve exponentially from the 1980’s to the 1990’s, but in the 90’s, video games were able get licenses from the professional sports leagues. Finally, fans and gamers were actually able to play as actual major league franchises with actual professional athletes* (with one major exception of a certain professional basketball player conspicuously absent. I guess he was too busy making a movie with cartoons and playing minor league baseball to approve his likeness on an arcade game.)

In regards to side scrollers and side shooters, I felt that the minor upgrades in graphics did not make up for the fact that the gameplay remained constant, and this stagnant from the previous decade. The only titles that gathered a crowd were ones based on comic book superheroes (e.g.” “X-Men”.) Meanwhile, their counterparts in home video games, (e.g.: Metroid, MegaMan, Super Mario Bros., Sonic) were far superior in gameplay and level design. Personally, I didn’t see many of these games played in the arcades. I conclude that these gamers were playing the much better titles on their home consoles. Personally, I think Capcom and Konami flooded the market with so many of these type of games, I couldn’t see one particular title that stood out above the rest. I know a person who swears to me that “Cadillacs and Dinosaurs” was one of the greatest games of the decade, but he didn’t give a compelling argument as to why, or how it was better than its contemporaries.

My full list does go to 50, but I’m not posting it because there is a 25-way tie for 26th. So if you think I forsook or omitted certain titles like “CarnEvil,” “Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom,”or “Pigskin 621 A.D.”, believe me, I did not.

One last tangent: As much as I (any many other anime fans) bitch and moan about how terrible anime adaptations of video games are, I must state that: anime based on 90’s fighting games > “Saturday Supercade” Saturday morning cartoons based on 80’s arcade games.

With all of that in mind, here are our lists:

SF II arcade

The Podcast Unlimited Top 20 Arcade Games of the 1990’s

Keith’s List

Title (Year) – Manufacturer

  • 20. Virtua Fighter (1993) – Sega
  • 19. Jurassic Park (1994) – Sega
  • 18. NBA Jam (1993) – Midway
  • 17. Virtua Cop 2 (1994) – Sega
  • 16. Cruis’n USA (1994) – Midway
  • 15. Primal Rage (1994) – Atari
  • 14. Gunblade NY (1996) – Sega
  • 13. Alien 3 (1993) – Sega
  • 12. X-Men (1992) – Konami [the 6-player side-scrolling game]
  • 11. Smash TV (1990) – Williams
  • 10. Metal Slug (1996) – Nazca
  • 9. Gauntlet Legends (1998) – Atari
  • 8. Captain America & The Avengers (1991) – Data East
  • 7. House of the Dead 2 (1998) – Sega
  • 6. Area 51 (1995) – Atari
  • 5. Mortal Kombat II (1992) – Midway
  • 4. Marvel vs. Capcom (1998) – Capcom
  • 3. Tekken 3 (1997) – Namco
  • 2. Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991) – Midway
  • 1. Star Wars Trilogy Arcade (1998) – Sega

Honorable Mentions: Lethal Enforcers (1992) – Konami; Street Fighter II: The World Warrior (1991) – Capcom; Time Crisis (1996) – Namco; Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of Time (1991) – Konami.

My List

Title (Year) – Manufacturer

  • 20. X-Men Children of the Atom (1994) – Capcom [the 2-player fighting game]
  • 19. Soul Calibur (1998) – Namco
  • 18. Mortal Kombat II (1993) – Midway
  • 17. Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter (1997) – Capcom
  • 16. Race Drivin’ (1990) – Atari
  • 15. X-Men (1992) – Konami [the 6-player side-scrolling game]
  • 14. BustAMove (1993) – SNK
  • 13. Dark Stalkers: The Night Warriors (1994) – Capcom
  • 12. Golden Axe: The Revenge Of Death Adder (1992) – Sega
  • 11. Crazy Taxi (1999) – Sega
  • 10. Dance Dance Revolution (1999) – Konami
  • 9. House of the Dead (1997) – Sega
  • 8. Time Crisis II (1998) – Namco
  • 7. Tekken 3 (1997) – Namco
  • 6. Star Wars Trilogy Arcade (1998) – Sega
  • 5. Marvel Vs. Capcom (1998) – Capcom
  • 4. NBA Jam (1993) – Midway
  • 3. Street Fighter II – The World Warrior (1991) Capcom
  • 2. Mortal Kombat (1992) – Midway
  • 1. Gauntlet Legends (1998) – Atari

Honorable Mentions: Samurai Showdown (1993) – SNK; High Impact Football (1990) – Williams; King of Fighters ’94 (1994) – SNK; Killer Instinct (1994) – Midway; Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (1990) – Sega.

Once again, I want to thank the International Arcade Museum® (IAM) and Killer List of Videogames® for providing the information and research that made this list possible. It is the wiki rabbit hole of arcade games. 🙂



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