1990-1991: SNK Neo Geo, Nintendo Super NES, Philips CD-i
The rise of 16-bit graphics capabilities increased popular interest in game consoles and drew new companies to the party.
1990: SNK Neo Geo
Gaming enthusiasts revered the Neo Geo for its high-color 2D graphics, superb sound, excellent joystick controllers, and top-notch conversions of games like Fatal Fury, Samurai Showdown, and Art of Fighting. That said, it's probably most vividly remembered for its pricing: The console cost $650 at launch (with two joysticks and a game), and individual games were priced at roughly $200 each.
SNK would later release an updated Neo Geo CD console in both Japan and the United States for a more palatable $250, but by then it was competing with 32-bit 3D consoles like the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation.
1991: Super Nintendo Entertainment System
Despite enjoying immediate success in Japan, the 16-bit SNES faced stiff competition in North America from Sega's 16-bit Genesis. These two rivals became the center of the notorious console wars, a conflict fought more intensely in schoolyard and media debates than today's Xbox 360 vs. PlayStation 3 rivalry. Generally, you were either a Mario maniac, or a Sonic the Hedgehog kid.
The $200 SNES boasted in-game effects such as scaling and rotation, as well as peripherals like the Super Scope (a bazooka light-gun) and the Super Game Boy (which enabled users to play games from the popular Game Boy handheld on a TV). The SNES also got an early exclusive on the prized arcade hit Street Fighter II.
For a time, the SNES even held its own with later 32-bit 3D consoles like the Sega Saturn and the Sony PlayStation. This surprising tenacity was due largely to certain games that had built-in Super FX chips (serving as a graphics accelerator) and to others, like Donkey Kong Country, that used rendered 3D graphics.
1991: Philips CD-I
Costing about $700 at launch, the Compact Disc Interactive played interactive CD-I software (including several Zelda games from Nintendo) plus music, video, graphic (CD+G), and karaoke CDs. Philips, Sony, and Nintendo co-developed the CD-I format, and a variety of vendors introduced several series of players, but the concept never achieved widespread success.