The late 90s is a challenging period to condense into something as short as a top 5 arcade game list. There are so many legendary titles released between 1995 and 1999, making the task worse than Sophie’s Choice.
What made the latter half of the decade so impressive was the overall growth the gaming industry was seeing. With home consoles becoming staples in living rooms across the world, gaming as a whole was developing into a mainstream pastime. So, we’ll do our best to give you the five titles that stood out the most to us.
Best Arcade Game of 1995 – Alpine Racer
You don’t often see winter sports games in the limelight, so Alpine Racer may seem like a bit of an odd pick. However, this game actually received awards for best arcade game in 1995 for a number of reasons.
Alpine Racer had an outlandish cabinet with actual ski controls that enabled players to perform the actual moves of the sport to control the game. Combined with its handlebar controllers, it simulated skiing better than existing simulation equipment, which was telling of its programming and design.
Best Arcade Game of 1996 – Metal Slug
Contra and its constituents may have pioneered the run-and-gun side-scrolling genre, but Metal Slug took it to a whole new level. At first glance, it plays almost exactly the same as the Konami title, albeit at a slower pace.
There are power-ups to pick up, baddies to shoot, and bosses to fight. However, Metal Slug had a striking art style and highly detailed animations, unlike anything the genre had seen before. Its visuals, coupled with its booming soundtrack, overhyped announcer, and lighthearted vibe, gave this title a unique personality that’s the signature of its legacy to this day.
Best Arcade Game of 1997 – Time Crisis 2
Lightgun games existed in spades throughout the 80s and 90s, but Time Crisis 2 was its own beast entirely. Apart from having the signature foot pedal for covering and reloading, this sequel also featured a two-player mode, with two connected cabinets that enabled players to team up against the terrorist syndicate.
Namco’s proprietary Guncons also featured force feedback that gave the feel of a gun recoil. On top of all this, Time Crisis 2 featured a narrative which was a first for a title in this space. Though it was an arcade game poised to disrupt, lightguns seemingly faded away with little more done to build on the concept.
Best Arcade Game of 1998 – Soulcalibur
Fighting games were seemingly a dime a dozen during the latter half of the 90s, but one title stands out as most groundbreaking. Soulcalibur, the spiritual sequel to Soul Edge, is a weapon-based 3D fighting game that ticks all of the boxes for a solid arcade title. It has fast-paced, easy-to-grasp gameplay and mechanics while still having enough of a skill ceiling for pro players to sink their teeth into it.
On top of that, the game was majestically flashy with tons of ostentatious moves and explosive effects. It was a fighting game title that could make anyone feel powerful, hallmarking its position as one of the greatest games of all time.
Best Arcade Game of 1999 – Dance Dance Revolution 2ndMix
As its name suggests, Dance Dance Revolution revolutionized the dancing game space. Dance Dance Revolution 2ndMix took the success of its predecessor and catapulted Dance Dance Revolution into the stratosphere. Its more refined cabinets, coupled with a host of new tracks and mechanics, made it a marked improvement over its already famous older brother.
At its height, Dance Dance Revolution 2ndMix single-handedly brought crowds into arcades just to watch some of the best player-dancers duke it out dance-off style.
Which are the Best Arcade Games of the Late 90s?
There were a lot of noteworthy titles during the late 90s arcade game era. Amongst all of the fighting games of the time, Soulcalibur was the one that had the most significant impact by balancing accessibility and hardcore gameplay.
Alpine Race and Time Crisis 2 took cabinet technology to new heights, even though their legacy was short-lived due to the slowly fading of the arcade scene.
Metal Slug is one of SNK’s greatest franchises because of its style and personality. Finally, DDR 2ndMix took an already fantastic dance game and made it even better. We’re sure that you have other picks in mind, so sound off in the comments on which late 90s arcade titles are your favorites.