1991 was one of the biggest years in videogames ever. Not only were a ton of now-classic titles released, but also some groundbreaking titles came out that changed the industry forever. Who hasn’t heard of the PC classic that birthed turn-based strategy games or the arcade smash hit that breathed new life into a dying segment and went on to create a genre that is a pillar of eSports today? It all began in 1991.
10. Road Rash
Ever wanted to ride around on a motorcycle and beat the crap out of other people on a motorcycle while racing around tracks in hopes of securing first place? If you said yes to any of that then Road Rash was created for people like you, a combat racing game before Mario Kart and sans the kiddie fare. Road Rash was a brutal experience when it came out and it was a bit of a sensation. Electronic Arts violent motorcycle racing game simulates the life of an illegal street racer in California. Amazingly innovative for its time, Road Rash went on to become a series of videogames whose most recent release was Road Rash: Jailbreak for the Sony PlayStation back in 2000.
9. Neverwinter Nights
While you might be thinking about the title developed by the legendary Bioware, Neverwinter Nights was an ambitious title developed by Stormfront Studios in 1991. Set in the Forgotten Realms fantasy world of novels, the game employs Dungeons & Dragons mechanics to govern its combat systems and was the first MMO game offered. Hosted by America Online from 1991 to 1997, players could create a character then engage in a mostly text-based adventure that played on the screen. Players could progress up PvP ladders as they became better at the game and it introduced many of the elements now common to MMORPGs. Truly a groundbreaking title when it was first released, Neverwinter Nights went on to become a storied RPG series for the PC.
Lemmings is a crazy strange, insanely addictive puzzle game that got its start all the way back in 1991. Guiding the eponymous lemmings through courses the grew increasingly challenging was not only a fun way to keep your brain in shape but also a great way to pass time. A PC sensation upon release, Lemmings would see a port to nearly every platform in the following years. Players particularly enjoyed the games gradual incline upwards in terms of difficulty and the innovative and varied use of new mechanics as the game progressed. Considered a classic today, Lemmings made puzzle games a more graphical affair and even introduced a level of action and speed that, coupled with its innovative approach to puzzle solving, made for a game few wanted to miss.
7. Super Mario World
The release of the Super Famicom in Japan signaled the beginning of the 16-bit era for the Big N and also a massive shift for the industry as a whole. This was heralded by the simultaneous release of the system pack-in title, Super Mario World, a bright and colorful sequel to Super Mario Bros. 3 that showed off how much more powerful the Super Famicom was over its Famicom predecessor. Nintendo is widely credited with resurrecting the videogames industry in the wake of the 1983 crash that levelled it, and much of this success is attributed to the Nintendo Famicom. Following up such a legendary piece of hardware was not going to be easy, and the company knew it had to show its best face. 1991 would also see the release of Mario’s biggest competitor in the platformer genre, Sonic the Hedgehog. Super Mario World iterated on the bright, colorful variety of Super Mario Bros. 3 but added a touch of whimsy to it that, when coupled with its deep gameplay and stage variety, makes it a standout title in a series filled with classics.
7. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
In a similar fashion to Nintendo’s desire to put Mario in his best light, the Super Famicom also had to cast Link of the The Legend of Zelda in a new, yet familiar, mold. Once again showing they are capable of redefining their own classics and, in the process, create new classic games, Nintendo’s iteration of The Legend of Zelda on the Super Famicom took everything gamers loved about the first installment on the Famicom, updated the graphics and tweaked the gameplay here and there, threw in a bit of narrative focus, and delivered one of the most epic Zelda experiences of all time. Considered a foundational Zelda game by many, A Link to the Past even received a direct sequel on Nintendo’s 3DS system in A Link Between Worlds. The game’s graphics are gorgeous, the music is iconic, and the whole package screams quality. When people ask about the magic that Nintendo is able to bring to the table, A Link to the Past serves as an example of that prowess.
6. Mega Man IV
Mega Man IV on the NES was a sign of the times for the Blue Bomber. A sign that he was getting old, that 8-bit gaming was passed its prime, and that new things needed to be done. Thankfully we got Mega Man X for the SNES down the road, but Mega Man IV feels like the beginning of the end for the 8-bit era. An awesome game by any stretch, it doesn’t do anything daring or beyond what was established in Mega Man III. This is unfortunate, but Mega Man III is one of the best games of all time. You can’t really blame Capcom for not wanting to break the mold. Except for you can blame Capcom for not wanting to break the mold because it’s this conservative approach with Mega Man IV that earned the series the reputation of being iterative without being innovative. This is entirely false. Mega Man IV is a solid game and probably one of the best 8-bit titles for the NES in its later years. The music is great, the enemies are interesting, and, of course, it is Mega Man. What’s not to love.
4. Final Fantasy IV
When Square released their first entry in the Final Fantasy series on the Super Famicom, they did not know they were birthing a narrative legend that would go on to find its zenith in Final Fantasy VI. The Super Famicom entries of the Final Fantasy series really kicked things into high gear for Squaresoft, giving them the exposure, international success, and money needed to produce some of the most taxing and narrative-driven games for the system. Rich storylines, beautiful soundtracks, and often addictive gameplay became trademarks of Squaresoft’s Super Famicom games, and it all began with the release of Final Fantasy IV in 1991.
Legendary programmer Sid Meier’s most successful game to date, Civilization on the PC birthed a genre and a series that are still going strong to this day. Civilization put players in charge of an ancient nation and tasked them with guiding their people from a primitive past to a technological future, all the while engaging in warfare and espionage to overcome your opponents. Probably one of the most addictive games of all time, the original Civilization is a bedrock game for the development of the PC gaming industry, offering a depth of experience virtually impossible to find on consoles at the time. Simulating kingship as much as it could, Civilization is notable for its levels of customization and open-ended gameplay options.
2. Sonic the Hedgehog
Mario’s biggest competitor ever, Sonic the Hedgehog arrived for the Sega Genesis just in time to dampen Nintendo’s release of the Super Famicom and Super Mario World. Introducing speed to the traditional platformer gameplay, Sonic the Hedgehog also brought pizzazz and panache, sporting a cool, 1990s extreme look and fighting against technological monstrosities amid bright, colorful backgrounds. Heavy synth music and crisp sound effects rounded out one of the most polished packages ever to hit 16-bit gaming. When Sonic the Hedgehog came out, everyone knew Sega was serious about taking on Nintendo’s leadership in the gaming industry. And, while we know how that story ended, Nintendo has never enjoyed the unquestioned dominance it had before Sonic the Hedgehog’s arrival.
1. Street Fighter II
The game that saved arcades and birthed a craze, Capcom’s Street Fighter II was an initially unassuming arcade launch by the Japanese games giant. Little did they know the sensation the game would become. Everyone knows what Street Fighter is now and most gamers versed in their videogaming history know how important Street Fighter II is. Huge sprites, colorful graphcis, booming sound, an excellent soundtrack, and a vague, quirky story all combined to create one of the greatest games ever released on any platform ever. Street Fighter II earns every bit of praise people throw its way. It saved arcades and birthed modern competitive gaming. An epic release of any year, Street Fighter II’s release in 1991 marks it as one of the biggest ever in videogames history.