10 Best ’90s Arcade Games

Simpsons: The Arcade Game arcade machine and a screenshot of gameplay from arcade game X-Men

With graphical technology taking a big leap forward, the ‘90s were a huge time for video games. Gamers could feel the evolution of their favorite hobby everywhere, especially at their local arcades. Advances in technology improved not just how games looked, but how they were played.

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Be it fighting game legends like Street Fighter II, or light-gun shooters like House Of The Dead 2, the ‘90s were home to some of gaming’s most beloved arcade classics. ‘90s kids were treated to classic games that the industry is still trying to replicate. Among these classics, a handful stand apart as legends.



Any arcade proprietor who had a Metal Slug machine would very quickly find themselves swimming in quarters. The charming cartoony art style drew kids in, and the punishingly hard difficulty ensured that they would keep shovelling their allowance into the machine.

Metal Slug is one of the most beloved arcade games of all time for it’s jaw-dropping pixel art and challenging gameplay. It’s co-op play meant that friends could go to war together. While the franchise is far from a household name today, it’s still fondly remembered by arcade junkies.

9 House Of The Dead 2

One of the best things about the arcade that home gaming has yet to replicate is the light gun shooter. There have been home console light gun games, but none have captured the same feel of gripping a plastic gun and shooting at the arcade machine’s screen. One of the best examples of this is SEGA’s House Of The Dead 2.

While not known for their great stories or voice acting, the House Of The Dead games are beloved for pitting players against hordes of zombies in visceral action. House Of The Dead 2 is one of the most beloved entries in the franchise for its memorable bosses and bad voice acting.

8 Time Crisis

Another classic of the light gun genre, Time Crisis is a story of a lone gunman out to save the president’s kidnapped daughter. Time Crisis offered an ingenious innovation in the form of a foot pedal that made the player take cover whenever it was released. This allowed players to avoid damage, with the trade-off that they couldn’t attack while hiding.

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Because players had a timer to clear each room of enemies, this added a further level of tension to the game. It also ensured a steady stream of quarters was fed into the machine. It was an excellent innovation that helped to influence future shooter games.

7 Cruis’n USA

Like many arcade racers at the time, Cruis’n USA’s arcade cabinet was designed to feel like the inside of the car with a seat, pedals, and steering wheel. The game didn’t have a new concept — players would pick their car and try to come in first in a race across the United States. However, Cruis’n USA boasted incredible graphics for the time.

The amazing-looking cars and backgrounds all helped bring the feeling of a cross-country road trip to life. Any kid playing this game could freely live out their fantasy of driving a car out on the open road. It’s a fantasy that makes Cruis’n USA one of the most beloved arcade games of the ‘90s.

Before the MCU was even an idea, ‘90s arcade-goers already knew that the most ambitious Marvel crossover event was Marvel Vs. Capcom: Clash Of Super Heroes. This was the third of Capcom’s crossover fighters following X-Men Vs. Street Fighter and Marvel Super Heroes Vs. Street Fighter. However, this entry was notable in that it opened the roster to all of Capcom’s heroes like Mega Man.

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While the roster was small compared to later entries, this mashup of characters was a dream-come-true to ‘90s kids. The game allowed players to play as a tag-team of characters who could be swapped out or called in for assistance at a moment’s notice. It’s little wonder the title spawned a successful franchise.

5 X-Men

The X-Men practically ruled the ‘90s, both in and outside of comics. Aside from the incredibly popular cartoon series, one their most popular non-comics outings was the side-scrolling arcade beat-‘em-up, X-Men. With a roster of 6 characters, up to four players could huddle around a single arcade cabinet and take on the forces of evil.

Side-scrolling beat-‘em-ups have always been popular in arcades, and giving one an X-Men coat of paint was a recipe for a money-making machine. Fans loved playing as their favorite X-Men and unleashing devastating attacks upon hordes of enemies. It’s cheesy presentation and multiplayer mode made it an instant classic.

4 The Simpsons

Though The Simspons was another ‘90s icon, not many would expect it to make a decent side-scrolling beat-‘em-up game. These people were proven wrong when The Simpsons hit arcades to great acclaim. Playing as either Homer, Marge, Lisa, or Bart, players must fight through hordes of enemies to rescue Maggie from Mr. Burns.

While not what many fans would imagine a Simpsons game to look like, The Simpsons arcade game worked surprisingly well. The gameplay was fun, the animations were hilarious, and Springfield was brought to stunning life through pixel art. Many fans still contend that this is the best Simpsons game.

3 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time

While licensed games have a less-than-sterling reputation among gamers, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade games seem to be exempt from this reputation. In particular, many fans consider Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles In Time to be not just the best TMNT game, but one of the best beat-‘em-ups.

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The Turtles embarked on an action-packed adventure throughout history, allowing for some imaginative locales. The game was famous for introducing a mechanic of throwing enemies either at each other or the screen. During the ‘90s, this machine was sure to have a line of kids in front of it.

2 Mortal Kombat II

Fighting games were some of the most popular additions to an arcade’s roster in the ‘90s, and Mortal Kombat II was one of the most popular. The original Mortal Kombat arcade game was popular for its extreme violence, but fans loved Mortal Kombat II for going even further. The game was even bloodier than the original, and it gave each character an additional fatality move.

The game is also beloved for introducing numerous fan-favorite characters like Jax and Mileena, as well as finally taking the audience to Outworld. It also took a graphical leap forward to become one of the best-looking arcade games of the ‘90s.

1 Street Fighter II

Street Fighter is not only arguably the king of fighting games, but also of the arcades. Gamers of the ‘90s would be hard pressed to find a successful arcade that didn’t have a row of Street Fighter II machines. Though it wasn’t the first entry in the franchise, Street Fighter is widely considered to be the entry that launched the franchise into popularity.

Compared to the original’s roster of two characters, Street Fighter II allowed players to choose from 12 iconic characters. The game also introduced mechanics that would define the franchise and fighting games in general, such as combos and move canceling. Street Fighter is synonymous with arcades in the ‘90s, and SFII is the biggest reason why.

NEXT: 10 Arcade Video Games That Didn’t Survive The Console Era


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