Get Your Game On: 11 Must-Play Arcade Games of the '90s

Get Your Game On: 11 Must-Play Arcade Games of the '90s
Written by
Brian Saa
Published on
December 21, 2022
Read time:
4
minutes

Plus one honorable mention (that isn't House of the Dead, Mortal Kombat, or Virtua Fighter)


If you couldn’t tell, we love the ’90s. Before Xbox live arcade or the Nintendo Switch the arcade gaming scene was off the charts and full of incredible innovation during that era. You had a massive collection of different games to choose from—fighting games, sports games, racing adventures, side scrolling beat em ups, platformers—so much to discover and explore!


Have you ever heard anyone wax poetic about their favorite classic arcade? Chances are it had a classic 90s arcade title from the heady days of perhaps arcade gaming's greatest golden age. That time really brought some amazing arcade game releases that have since become timeless legends, with staying power and charm. Don't believe us? Just take a visit to your local retro arcade or barcade, and you'll see it chock full of 1990s arcade classics, including many of the titles on this list!


So for a minute, let’s reminisce about some of the top arcade machines of the 1990s—the ones that were so good, you’d steal quarters from your parents’ piggy back for.

The Best Arcade Games From the 90s

NBA Jam (1993)

nba jam best 90s arcade game
  • Producer: Midway Games
  • Genre: Sports
  • Max Players: 4
  • Game Credits: Mark Turmell, Shawn Liptak, Jamie Rivett, Sal Divita, John Carlton, Tony Goskie
  • More info: NBA Jam at Arcade-Museum


“Monster jam!”


“He’s on fire!”


Not only was the gameplay of NBA Jam iconic, the catchphrases were, too. In the first version version of this popular basketball arcade game, players picked a pair of NBA stars and stepped on the court versus another pair of stars, shooting and shoving their way to victory.


Only in the arcade game could you suit up as Shaquille O’Neal. Ever wonder why? Licensing fees, baby! By the time the console versions arrived, Shaq was no longer covered under the NBA license.

nba jam top 90s retro arcade game

Looking to bring one of the ultimate arcade games from the ’90s home? A re-release of the NBA Jam arcade machine called NBA Jam: Shaq Edition is a bigger version with more elbow space for not that much more money—you can find one online pretty easily. Shame we never got to play as Michael Jordan aka the future star of Space Jam, as he was already making that Air Jordan money.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time (1991)

teenage mutant ninja turtles best 90s arcade game
  • Producer: Konami
  • Genre: Scrolling Fighting Game
  • Max Players: 4
  • Game Credits: K. Takabayashi, Y. Furukawa, Yasuo Okuda, Toshinori Shimono, Eiji Nakagawa, Shigeki Morihira, Masami Inafuku, M. Moriyama, Soichiro Kitai, Kumiko Ogawa, Masatsugu Hashimoto, Hiromi Sumida
  • More info: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time at Arcade-Museum


Cowabunga? More like cowa-FUN-ga!


This multiplayer amphibian extravaganza was everything a turtles fan could want and more. A side-scrolling fighting game, in 1991's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time, you could throw Foot Soldiers at the freakin’ screen! You could jump-kick that fly guy Baxter Stockman! You could surf in the sewers to a rockin’ song appropriately called “Sewer Surfin’”!


Introducing the Ninja Turtles to time travel (via a time warp) was a genius move and made it one of the most popular arcade games from the ’90s.

teenage mutant ninja turtles turtles in time 1990s arcade game

More video game franchises need to do time travel—I mean, we’d like to travel to a time where Chris Pratt doesn’t voice Mario.

Which Ninja Turtle was your go-to in this top arcade game from the ’90s? Ours was Donatello (that sweet, sweet reach).

Area 51 (1995)

area 51 classic 1990s arcade game shooter
  • Producer: Atari Games
  • Genre: Shooter
  • Max Players: 2
  • Game Credits: Mike Hally, Robert Weatherby, Steve Caterson, Charlie Grisafi, Guy Fumagalli, Hector Silva, James Mestemaker
  • More info: Area 51 on Arcade-Museum


Is Area 51 the most replayable arcade game from the ’90s? We think so. 1995's Area 51 is an original game from Atari Games, and a certified cult classic from the era's arcade games scene.


Gun down those aliens, hit those exploding barrels, and save the world. As the player, you were part of STAAR (Strategic Tactical Advanced Alien Response) shooting up the invading Kronn aliens—all details that we did not totally just Google. This game 0% depended on plot and doesn’t need to apologize for that—it was all about the sci-fi shoot ’em up action!


Extra points for the poster tagline “The Truth is in There.” Now that’s what I call ’90s!


Side note: Are we the only ones who always accidentally shot this poor woman in the boobs? We were hormonal youths and those digital sweater puppies kinda drew the eye, ya know?!

area 51 retro 90s arcade game image

Arcade games from the ’90s, man…

NFL Blitz (1997)

midway nfl blitz 90s sports arcade game


The NFL, or National Football League to the layperson, has been bogged down recently by too many rules. You’re really gonna penalize a guy for celebrating in the end zone? After a touchdown? Sigh.


In this incredibly popular arcade game from the ‘90s, players lived out their fantasy of no rules, hits after the plays, WWE-style football. It was a wonderful world where penalties (and concussions) did not exist.

NFL Blitz was the spiritual successor to NBA Jam, as the games designers wanted to do for the NFL what NBA Jam did for the NBA, making the game more intense and letting players get to the action faster. The game featured "arcade style" graphics (so it wasn't exactly going for realism) and sold very well as a console games port for platforms like the N64 and Playstation.

best 90s arcade game midway nfl blitz


Wish this arcade classic was around now with updated rosters so we could beat the crap out of Tampa Tom Brady.

Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)

terminator 2 judgement day best 90s arcade game
  • Producer: Midway
  • Genre: Shooter
  • Max Players: 2
  • Game Credits: George Petro, Jack Haeger, Neil Nicastro, Ken Fedesna, Jack E. Haeger, Tim Coman, John Vogel, George Petro, Warren Davis, William F. Dabelstein, Jr., Todd R. Allen
  • More info: Terminator 2: Judgement Day at Arcade-Forum


“DUN DUN, DUN, DUN DUN!”


This amazing game featured actual actor likenesses (their scenes were even filmed at the same time as the original film), which always felt like an amazing visual feat at the time!


You grabbed your dual plastic machine guns and gunned down Terminators, hunter killers, orbs, and more in one of the best arcade titles of the ’90s. Released on Halloween in 1991, you stepped into Arnold Schwarzenegger’s shoes as the T-800 and went metal mano-a-mano with the ever-so-creepy and liquidy T-1000.

terminator 2 T2 90s arcade game

Which of the game’s two endings did you usually get?

Street Fighter II Turbo (1994)

street fighter II turbo 90s arcade game


“HADOUKEN!” It was a toss-up between Mortal Kombat II and this for one of the best fighting games of the 90s, but Street Fighter II Turbo won. Consider it the champion of 90s fighting games (at least for this article).


Street Fighter II was responsible for almost 60% of arcade game sales worldwide in 1991. What are enterprising designers of arcade games to do next? Release Street Fighter II Turbo and make everything move faster of course!


High off the initial success of street fighter, the game creators dropped this popular fighting game in 1994 and kicked all the virtual ass. You had to think faster, do combos faster, and mock your opponents faster. It made for a more thrilling experience for both players and those watching them alike.


Shout out to our fellow scaredy-cat gamers who would strike from far away with Dhalsim.

street fighter II turbo Dhalsim attack 90s arcade

Cruis'n World (1996)

cruis'n world 1996 top retro arcade game
  • Producer: Midway Games
  • Genre: Racing
  • Max Players: 4
  • Game Credits: Eugene Jarvis, Eric Pribyl, Scott Posch, Xion Cooper, Ted Barber, Vince Pontarelli
  • More info: Cruis'n World at Arcade-Museum


Cruis'n America took the arcade scene by storm in 1994. So much so that Midway Games only waited 2 years to release its successor, Cruis'n World in 1996.


Race around the world, chasing dreams and kangaroos from Australia to the country of…Africa. (This was corrected in the N64 version, changing Africa to an actual country: Kenya.) This top racing game from the ’90s sometimes had an arcade cabinet with four seats and steering wheels so four players could race at the same time.

cruisn world best 90s arcade racing game

This version introduced stunts so you could stunt on your opponents with tricks like wheelies and really embarrass them in front of the other kids. No drivers’ licenses needed here—just pure globe-trotting arcade racing fun.

Star Wars Trilogy Arcade (1998)

star wars trilogy arcade game 90s retro arcade
  • Producer: Sega
  • Genre: Shooter
  • Max Players: 1
  • Game Credits: Kenji Sasaki, Takahiro Kakizawa, Motoshi Takabe, Nobuhiro Morishita, Takahiro Kakizawa, John Williams
  • More info: Star Wars Trilogy Arcade on Arcade-Museum


A long time ago in an arcade far, far away… STAR WARS TRILOGY ARCADE!


Released the same year as the Star Wars theatrical special editions, this popular arcade title from the 1990s dropped you right in the middle of the action of the Star Wars trilogy. The graphics were astounding, the music was heart-pumping (featuring John Williams' iconic score), and the scale was vast.

star wars trilogy arcade 90s best arcade game

We once saw somebody get to the Darth Vader showdown. It blew our minds—much more than those imminent prequel movies would.

Time Crisis II (1998)

time crisis II 90s arcade game


There was a time in the 90s where if you walked into a mall, movie theater, or bowling alley, or arcade, you’d see Time Crisis II. Featuring the iconic foot pedal reload ability introduced in the first game Time Crisis, players of this game hit the foot pedal more than Keith Moon.

time crisis II 1990s arcade game

What set it apart was the two-player co-op, where you could strategize with a friend (or skilled stranger) and cover each other’s backs as you tried to clear each level before time ran out. Some days, we wish we could press a pedal and escape from the world, reload our energy, and duck stray incoming. Getting old sucks, doesn’t it?

Crazy Taxi (1999)

crazy taxi 1990s arcade game
  • Producer: Sega
  • Genre: Racing
  • Max Players: 1
  • Credits: Kenji Kanno, Hisao Oguchi, Mitsuhiko Kakita
  • More info: Crazy Taxi at Arcade-Forum


Crazy Taxi roiled the gaming industry (and our social lives) upon its initial release in 1999. The (in our opinion) best original video arcade game released that year was this crazy racing game. And as crazy as its title suggests, the Crazy Taxi arcade game from SEGA let you sit behind the wheel and drive (crazy).

You took the steering wheel as one of four drivers: Axel, B.D. Joe, Gena, and Gus. Controls also included a physical steering wheel and gear shifter. It had a killer soundtrack from The Offspring and Bad Religion - we're sure you can still hear the "ya! ya! ya! ya! ya!" in your game addled minds.

crazy taxi arcade game from the 1990s


In fact, we like Crazy Taxi so much, we wrote a whole ass article on how to buy one.

The Simpsons (1991)

the simpson best 90s arcade game
  • Producer: Konami
  • Genre: Scrolling Fighter
  • Max Players: 4
  • Credits: Kengo Nakamura, S. Kido, Akira Suzuki, Hirotaka Ishikawa, NWK, Kengo Nakamura, Yasushi Takano, K. Nakajima, Noriyuki Yokoki, Hiroshi Iuchi, Norio Hanzawa
  • More info: The Simpsons at Arcade-Forum


We know your rage has been growing as you read “Ten Must-Play Arcade Games of the ’90s” and didn’t see The Simpsons arcade game game listed. We purposely left it for the end to rile you.


To quote Nelson, “HA HA!”

best 1990s arcade game the simpsons

One of the most popular arcade games from the ’90s, The Simpsons was chock-full of important references for 90s kids (and hours of fun). Nothing beat that feeling of teaming up with up to three other players (aka playable characters in the Simpsons family) to beat the crap out of a giant Krusty the Clown balloon. Marge’s vacuum cleaner may be the randomest, awesomest weapon in video game history. At least it sure didn’t suck—and this game didn’t blow.

Honorable Mentions: Golden Axe (1989 😲)

golden axe 1980s arcade game



Okay, it wasn’t an arcade game from the ’90s, it was 1989, but we CANNOT pass up an opportunity to talk about Golden Axe.


How cool was this game?

golden axe best arcade game


You got to be a dwarf with a huge freakin’ axe! You got to ride around on whatever the hell that thing is on the left in this pic! With fantasy franchises like The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones still alive and kickin’, can we get a new Golden Axe game, or show, or movie? Or a theme park ride where we can ride that thing? We were still playing this popular arcade game in the ‘90s, so we’re including it. We figured it was better to axe for forgiveness than to axe for permission.


We’ll see ourselves out.