With the recent news that there is only one surviving Blockbuster Video still in operation, we thought we would take a look at some of the greatest video game rentals of all time. Most of us have fond memories of hitting our local rental store on Friday night and loading up on games and snacks to keep us entertained over the weekend. Growing up in the 80s and 90s, most kids had a limited budget and needed to make informed decisions on which games warranted a purchase and which were better served as a rental. There are several criteria for what makes a great video game rental, with arcade games, multiplayer experiences, and games that can be completed over a weekend typically where your rental budget was best spent. Here are some classic games that meet that criteria and qualify as the 15 best video game rentals of all time.
15. Super Mario Bros. 3
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Super Mario Bros. 3 was a cultural phenomenon even before it was released in February of 1990. The 1989 film The Wizard revealed the game to moviegoers in its final act, offering an early glimpse of what would end up being one of the greatest video games of all time. The film highlighted one of the game’s most interesting additions to the classic platforming franchise – the warp whistle. The warp whistle allowed the player to skip large sections of the game and made it possible to complete in 5-6 hours.
The thing that I remember distinctly about the launch of Super Mario Bros. 3 is that it cost $89.99 (in Canadian dollars, mind you) to purchase, almost 2 months worth of my paper route earnings. I had no choice but to rent the game or watch it being played at a friend’s house, I say “watch” because it was unlikely that anyone was willing to pass the controller over. The combination of the game’s hefty price tag, short completion time, and the fact that it’s simply one of the greatest games ever released made Super Mario Bros. 3 one of the greatest rentals of all time.
14. Mortal Kombat
Platform: Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo
After becoming a smash hit in arcades across North America, Mortal Kombat would hit store shelves on “Mortal Monday” – September 13, 1993. The violent and controversial fighting game was one of the most anticipated video game releases of its era. Unfortunately for the youth of the time, Mortal Kombat was given a “Mature” rating due to the game’s violence and gore. This made it tough for younger gamers to get their hands on a copy of their own, as retail stores were instructed not to sell the game to anyone under the age of 18. Fortunately, most mom and pop rental stores had far more relaxed standards and had no problem renting the game out.
Mortal Kombat was a near-perfect arcade port that was available for the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo. Though the game was a competent fighter in its own right, the real draw was the over-the-top finishing moves. When it came to early 90s fighting games, there was nothing better than getting together with the kids in your neighborhood and taking turns showing off each character’s fatalities.
13. Mario Kart: Double Dash
Platform: Nintendo GameCube
Mario Kart: Double Dash is one of the best games in the series and it’s a little-known fact that the game allowed you to play with up to eight people in local multiplayer when you linked two GameCube systems together. This all stems from Double Dash’s most controversial design decisions, the dual driver mechanic, which I believe adds a new wrinkle of strategy to the traditional racing gameplay, as you have to put thought into finding characters who complement each other.
While it’s disappointing that Double Dash features only 16 courses, Nintendo took an approach of quality over quantity here, as pound for pound, Double Dash has the best selection of tracks in the series. Whether you’re barreling down the side of a volcano in DK Mountain or weaving around dinosaurs in Dino Dino Jungle, each track in Double Dash is lovingly crafted and full of surprises and shortcuts. One of the absolute best multiplayer experiences available on the GameCube, Double Dash was one of the most popular rentals in gaming history.
12. Mirrors Edge
Platform: Xbox 360, Ps3, PC
Released in 2008, Mirror’s Edge is a first-person action-adventure platformer that is essentially a parkour simulator. The game takes place in a quasi-futuristic dystopian society, in which a network of ‘runners’, including the main character, Faith Connors, act as couriers transmitting important packages while evading government surveillance. The game features a brightly colored and minimalist style that sets itself apart from most first-person games and allows for a greater freedom of movement with regard to its 3D environment.
This exciting game allows for a wider range of actions—such as sliding under barriers, using zip lines, tumbling, wall-running, and shimmying across ledges. While the gameplay was unique, Mirror’s Edge was light on story and replayability. The game could be completed in under eight hours, which made it an ideal weekend rental.
11. Fusion Frenzy
Platform: Microsoft Xbox
A launch title for the original Xbox back in 2001, Fusion Frenzy is a four-player party game that features 45 different mini-games. A demo for the game was included with several other launch titles including Halo and Project Gotham Racing, which gave the game some extra exposure for Xbox console owners. While the game sold well for Microsoft and reviews were generally positive the game caught on with college and specifically drinking aged gamers as it was incorporated into their pre-party routine.
Comparable to Nintendo’s Mario Party series, Fusion Frenzy was seen as a more mature take on the competitive multiplayer mini-game genre. Fusion Frenzy is a ton of fun and is still one of the best local multiplayer gaming experiences around. In 2017, the game became backwards compatible on the Xbox One, introducing it to yet another generation of gamers.
10. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game
Platform: Nintendo Entertainment System
Yet another arcade smash hit to make it to home consoles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1990. The idea that gamers could play one of the greatest arcade beat-em-ups from the comfort of their couch for $2.99 per night instead of pumping an endless stream of quarters into a coin slot is something special. TMNT II is a faithful representation of its arcade counterpart, despite only allowing for two-player co-op instead of the four-player action seen in arcades.
The arcade game was based on the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series which began airing in the winter of 1987 and quickly made the Turtles a household name. While the NES version of the game included two new levels with new enemies and boss battles, the game could easily be completed in under two hours, making it more suitable as a weekend rental.
9. Power Stone
Platform: Sega Dreamcast
Power Stone is a criminally underrated 3D arena fighting game made by Capcom. The game was initially released in arcades on the Sega NAOMI hardware and later ported to the Dreamcast in 1999, just in time for the console’s launch. The game features ten unique characters, a wide variety of environments, as well as a multitude of attacks and weapons that add to the game’s frantic fighting mechanics. Racing to collect the power stones scattered throughout a given level and pulling off one of your character’s special moves in order to decimate your opponent’s health bar is one of the more memorable multiplayer experiences on the Dreamcast.
The game received mostly favorable reviews when it was released but was overshadowed by the plethora of quality fighting games released on the console. Power Stone provides an authentic arcade experience with some great multiplayer fun, but like most arcade ports is light on content, making it an ideal rental.
8. Portal 2
Platform: Xbox 360, Ps3, PC
Portal 2 is a first-person puzzle platformer developed and published by Valve Corporation. The game was released on April 19, 2011, for PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 and is a sequel to the critically-acclaimed Portal. It’s also the first game created by Valve to be rated E10+, compared to the M rating slapped on all of their previous titles. The framework that was laid down by the first Portal, which was included in 2007’s Orange Box, was built upon with a longer single-player campaign and a cooperative mode.
While Portal 2’s cooperative mode doesn’t reach the delightful narrative heights of its single-player campaign, it serves as a perfect complimentary piece that offers new twists on the game’s puzzle designs. By adding one other player to the mix, Valve is able to craft puzzles that simply aren’t possible in the single-player mode, as players must work in tandem to solve each room’s environmental brainteasers. Portal 2 is a unique package that ticks several boxes when it comes to being a good rental – a fantastic single-player campaign that can be completed in a weekend and some fantastic co-op multiplayer.
7. Sunset Riders
Platform: Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis
Konami’s side-scrolling run’n’gun classic was first released in arcades in 1991 and later made an appearance on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Sunset Riders is set in a fanciful version of the American Old West and revolves around four bounty hunters named Steve, Billy, Bob, and Cormano, who are out to claim rewards offered for eliminating the most wanted outlaws in the West.
The game became a cult favorite on home consoles and has become rare and expensive in the decades since the port’s release. Known for its great level design and challenging, addictive gameplay, Sunset Riders was the ideal rental for 16-bit gamers. Calling up your friends in the neighborhood and letting them know you’ve just rented one of the best arcade shooters available would result in your doorbell ringing in a matter of minutes.
6. Spec Ops: The Line
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Spec Ops: The Line is primarily a third-person shooter with an emphasis on cover-based shooting. This hidden gem features some fun and fast-paced gameplay and an interesting story that includes a pretty epic twist. Players can hide behind cover, vault over obstacles, and shoot enemies while utilizing a variety of gadgets. Sand is a key gameplay mechanic that can be manipulated to help defeat enemies. You’ll play as Captain Martin Walker, who is sent into a post-catastrophe Dubai with an elite Delta Force team on a recon mission.
As the game progresses, Walker’s mental health deteriorates, as he begins to experience hallucinations and slowly realizes the horror of war. Spec-Ops: The Line is a hidden gem that was unfortunately missed by most gamers. The enjoyable single-player campaign and multiplayer component make this an ideal rental.
5. Super Smash Bros.
Platform: Nintendo 64
The Super Smash Bros. series has become a household name in recent years but it’s still kind of amazing that the game ever made it to store shelves. Having little faith in Nintendo approving his idea for a crossover fighting game featuring the company’s mascots, series creator Masahiro Sakurai developed the game in secret. Thankfully, the gamble paid off and fans would get their chance to battle with Nintendo’s classic lineup of characters in this 2.5D fighting game released in 1999. The gameplay objective differs from that of traditional fighters by aiming to knock opponents off the stage instead of depleting life bars which allowed for less experienced gamers to also enjoy the experience.
The ability to pit the likes of Mario against Donkey Kong, Kirby, or Pikachu was a new experience that piqued the interest of gamers. Super Smash Bros. was accessible to casual fans but provided enough depth in its fighting mechanics for seasoned fighting game fans.
4. Sonic The Hedgehog 3
Platform: Sega Genesis
Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is a fast-paced platform game developed and published by Sega. The third entry in the Sonic the Hedgehog series, it was released worldwide for the Sega Genesis in February 1994. Following the events of Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Dr. Robotnik’s spaceship, the Death Egg, crash-lands on a mysterious floating island. There, Sonic and Tails must once more retrieve the Chaos Emeralds to stop Death Egg from relaunching, while making rounds with the island’s guardian, Knuckles the Echidna.
While any of the 16-bit Sonic games made great rentals due to their quality platforming action, both of the previous games were bundled with Genesis consoles and were most likely already in Genesis owner’s library by the time the third installment was released. Sonic The Hedgehog 3 is seen by many as the pinnacle of the franchise and one of the best games on the Genesis.
3. GoldenEye 007
Platform: Nintendo 64
Based on the 1995 film of the same name, GoldenEye 007 is a first-person shooter developed by famed studio Rare for the Nintendo 64 in 1997. The game features a single-player campaign in which players assume the role of British Secret Intelligence Service agent James Bond as he fights to prevent a criminal syndicate from using a satellite weapon against London to cause a global financial meltdown. Where the game really shines is its split-screen multiplayer mode in which two, three, or four players can compete in different types of deathmatch games.
While the single-player campaign was reason enough to rent this game, the multiplayer matches were some of the most fun that could be had on a console during the 64-bit era. Surprisingly, the multiplayer mode was a last minute addition by the development team and almost didn’t make it into the game.
2. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater
Platform: PlayStation, Nintendo 64, Dreamcast
Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater hit store shelves right at the peak of the extreme sports craze and made a fantastic rental due to its progression system, multiplayer modes, and high score chasing. The game takes place in a three-dimensional environment where players control a variety of professional skaters in order to complete a mission by performing tricks and collecting objects. It also featured a fantastic soundtrack that mixed rock, punk, and hip-hop into one of the most memorable compilations in gaming history.
The fantastic multiplayer modes are played by two players in a split-screen view and include three games: “Graffiti”, “Trick Attack”, and “HORSE”. While the multiplayer modes were a nice addition, it was the high score system that made the game a hit among friends. Being able to input your initials beside the high score on any given level gave the player bragging rights while they held the title.
1. Mario Party 2
Platform: Nintendo 64
The Nintendo 64 is fondly remembered by many as being a fantastic couch multiplayer console and one of the best examples of this was the Mario Party series. A board game style party game developed by Hudson Soft and published by Nintendo, Mario Party 2 is still seen by many as the pinnacle of the series. The player takes control of one of six playable characters and is directed around various themed game boards with the goal of earning the most stars by winning mini-games.
Mario Party 2 features an impressive 65 unique mini-games that are divided into four-player, one vs. three, two vs. two, and battle games. The game provides some of the best multiplayer gaming available on a system already known for its fantastic multiplayer offerings. Countless sequels and several console generations later, Mario Party is still going strong, but the newer titles simply don’t hold a candle to the first three N64 titles.