The Nintendo World Championship 1990 cartridge has been getting a lot of press lately, thanks in large part to an eBay auction that ended just shy of $100,000. This has left a lot of people stunned, wondering what could possibly make this obscure 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System game worth the high asking price. Is it possible that this ultra-rare title is secretly the best game of all time? Let's find out.
Before we get too far into this review, it's probably worth mentioning that I do not own a copy of the Nintendo World Championship 1990 cartridge. I don't have a spare $100,000 to throw towards an old game, so this review was completed using an emulator. But don't click away just yet, because I have played the original cart. Granted, it has been a quarter century and I was only 12 years old at the time, but at least I can say that I've played the world's most expensive video game.
Long before South Korea fell in love with StarCraft and eSports became a thing, Nintendo conducted a year-long tour of the United States to find the best video game player. It was part serious competition and part promotional showcase for Nintendo's upcoming games, which just happened to include Super Mario Bros. 3. But I didn't care that it was a blatant advertisement, because there wasn't a force strong enough to hold my 12 year old body away from the Nintendo World Championships.
On the show floor were the newest games from Nintendo's third parties, including Ninja Gaiden II from Tecmo, Sunsoft's Batman adaptation and Castlevania III from Konami. This was the first time I played River City Ransom by American Technos and the NES version of Double Dragon II: The Revenge. These were all games I would eventually buy, partially because of my experience at the Nintendo World Championships.
In the background, as gamers excitedly played Wrath of the Black Manta on the show floor, there was a tournament underway. Those who chose to wait in a long line were allowed to attempt a high score run on the Nintendo World Championship cartridge. There were twenty or thirty stations set-up, each with the game and a timer. Everybody played at once and the top scores advanced to the next round. Eventually, after playing the cartridge a number of times, a regional winner was determined. That person would eventually compete in the finals and possibly become the greatest gamer of all time.
Sadly, I did not win. My score was in the top half, but not high enough to reach the next level. I left disappointed, knowing that I should have spent more time practicing Rad Racer. But even though I didn't become the greatest Nintendo player in the world, I had a great time on the show floor and couldn't wait for them to do it again. Unfortunately, this was the first and last Nintendo World Championships.
As for the game, it's really nothing more than a hobbled together collection of challenges. With the timer running, players are expected to gather up 50 coins in Super Mario Bros., complete a single track in Rad Racer and then earn a high score in Tetris. After you've done all that (or time has expired), the score is calculated and your total is displayed in big yellow numbers.
Forget goombas and other racers, your real opponent is the stopwatch. You don't have long to complete any of these tasks, so even veteran players will need to hurry in order to break a million points. Players can die in Super Mario Bros., but it won't make much of a difference when you start with 99 lives. Rad Racer is equally easy, since the in-game timer never runs out. It all comes down to how much time you have left to rack up big points in Tetris.
As a novelty, the Nintendo World Championships 1990 game has its purpose. In fact, I wish there were more games like it. But that doesn't make the experience fun. While Tetris remains a good time, neither Super Mario Bros. nor Rad Racer seem fit for this style of score challenge. The scoring system also seems suspect, as a large majority of the overall points come from Tetris.
Nintendo World Championships 1990 is fun to play with friends, but will get old quickly. At best, it will make you want to revisit the real games, which are longer and deeper than this collection. My nostalgia for the amazing event cannot overcome the game's many shortcomings, including limited replay and games that seem mismatched. Forget paying thousands of dollars, this rare title is barely worth five bucks on the Virtual Console.