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Electronic Gaming Monthly's Best Reviewed Games of 1990
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on June 21, 2017   |   Episode 104 (Show Archive)  

The year is 1990 and Agent Cooper is on the scene! This was the year when Macaulay Culkin protected his house from burglars, the Neo Geo debuted for $650 and Deee-Lite reminded us that the Groove is in the Heart. But we're not here to talk about people that are not vicious or malicious, just de-lovely and delicious, because today we're counting down the Electronic Gaming Monthly's top 10 reviewed games of 1990. Dig!

Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos
You know it's a great year when Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos is how the countdown kicks off. We'll see a lot of iconic games on this list, but few have as cool a story as this Tecmo sequel. This is a game best known for its twisted story and impressive 8-bit cinemas, reminding gamers that sometimes a fun action game is more than just a fun action game.

"Probably the best sequel ever made with near-perfect graphics, challenging game play and intermissions which entice you to always go [a] round further," gushes Ed Semrad. Martin was on the exact same page: "Unbelievable! This has got to be the best looking Nintendo game ever made!" Curiously, every EGM critic gave it a 9 out of 10 except one -- the fake ninja. Sushi-X concluded that "using the same bosses that were in the first game is a let-down, but it's still worth the price of admission." He gave it an 8.

Beyond the high scores, Ninja Gaiden II managed to win EGM's Best Ending of a Game award, which is what you're looking at right now. Spoiler alert. Despite some nitpicking by Sushi-X, The Dark Sword of Chaos managed to average an impressive 8.75 out of 10. That was almost enough to be the year's best ninja game, but we'll get to that in a few minutes.
Ys Book I & II
So here's a fun fact: Electronic Gaming Monthly critics ended up issuing a total of four perfect 10 out of 10 scores in 1990. That's a lot. If you went through our 1989 episode, then you'll already know that the highest score they gave a game was a 9. To show you just how great of 1990 was for gaming, Ys Book I & II got a 10 and it didn't even make it into the top 5. Yeah, this list is full of genuine classics.

Since I brought it up, we might as well start with Ed Semrad's perfect score. "The perfect game finally happened. Combine perfect voice and a true CD soundtrack with two, not just one, full blown RPGs, each with lengthy graphic and spoken intermissions, and you get the ultimate in this genre." I'm not sure the voices are exactly "perfect," but I'll go with it. This review was so convincing that it made me want (and eventually get) a TurboGrafx-CD just to play Ys Book I & II. Martin agreed that it was great, calling it the "most phenomenal RPG ever made" and the "best Turbo of the year."

So why is this game only listed at number nine? That's because both Steve and Sushi-X gave Ys Book I & II a score of 8 out of 10. "The game is slow for me," complained Steve, "but the quality is obvious." Sushi-X has a similar opinion. He said it was "the ultimate RPG game," but wasn't that into role-playing games at the time. Even with the naysayers, Ys ended up winning the Best Back Ground Music and Sound in a Video Game award, along with Best RPG Video Game. Ys Book I & II averaged a score of 8.75.
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
You want to know how great Castlevania III is? When Netflix went to make an animated series based on the popular franchise, they went straight to Dracula's Curse. They didn't bother with Simon's Quest or the iconic Symphony of the Night, but instead knew that Konami's 1990 action game was the perfect place to start. I think Electronic Gaming Monthly would agree that this was a wise decision, because they not only gave the sequel nothing but high marks, but they ended up naming it the year's best 8-bit game.

"As a hardcore Castlevania fan, this is definitely vampire hunting at its best," raves Martin. "Unbelievable graphics and a superb soundtrack contribute to the original style of play." Sushi-X joked that the "return to the original format certainly warms my heart, as long as no one drives a stake through it." He ended up calling it "a must!"

If you're wondering why the best NES game of the year only rings up at number 8 on this list, then you can go ahead and blame Ed Semrad. While everybody else gave the game 9s, he was the lone holdout that brought the average down with his 8. "Castlevania 3 is a pretty good game from start to finish," he began. "While it may be familiar, part three is still very, very good." No, Ed, Dracula's Curse is fantastic. Thankfully, those 9s bring the average up to an 8.75 out of 10.
Castle of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse
I mentioned a couple episodes ago that Sega was spending a lot of money on licensing deals in the early days of the Genesis. It wasn't just sports stars that got the big bucks, but also Michael Jackson and Mickey Mouse. While EGM wasn't especially enthusiastic about Moonwalker, they absolutely fell in love with Castle of Illusion. It's the game that spawned some of the best Disney games of the 16-bit era ... and also Fantasia.

"Absolutely spectacular," exclaimed Sushi-X. "Surrealistic graphic presentation and superb animation remind me of the classic cartoons of Disney!" The visuals turned out to be the go-to for all of the EGM critics. "The graphics are truly amazing and a testament to what the Genesis can do when a little time and effort goes into a game," raves Martin. Ed said that this "is a game which Disney himself would be proud of." All four editors gave Castle of Illusion a 9 out of 10.
John Madden Football
I think it's safe to say that 1990 had a little something for everybody. We've already talked about a ninja game, horror game, Disney game and role-playing game, so it seems weirdly fitting that number 6 is a sports game. And this is not just any sports game, because it's the birth of one of the longest running franchises of all time -- John Madden Football. Okay, so maybe the original Madden was on computers two years earlier, but this Genesis release is the one that cemented it as the king of console games.

"Without question, doubt or reservation, Madden Football is the BEST sports simulator I've ever played," describes Steve. Ed was on the same play, calling out the perfect gameplay, extensive playbook and outstanding 3D effects. Sushi-X said that it's almost flawless, giving it a 9 out of 10. Even Martin loved it, a surprising turn of events from a guy that starts his review reminding us that he doesn't like sports games. Little did they know the phenomenon John Madden Football was going to become, but I have a hunch some of the sensed it. Madden averaged a 9.
Super Mario Bros. 3
There are big releases, and then there is Super Mario Bros. 3. Between magazines hyping the game for months, the Nintendo World Championships putting it front and center, and The Wizard working as a big screen advertisement, Super Mario Bros. 3 was easily the most sought-after game in 1990. Electronic Gaming Monthly loved it, but not enough to give it a 10 or name it the best NES game of the year.

To Steve's credit, he did say Super Mario Bros. 3 comes close to a perfect 10. He gushed that it offered "the largest, most detailed, graphically superb, audio enhanced, three-meg masterpiece loaded with perfect power-ups and extraordinary execution, most fun to play game" he's ever seen on the Nintendo. That was a mouthful. Ed agreed, starting his review by stating the obvious. "Nintendo has done the impossible. They have created a game as close to perfection as you can get." But again, only a 9 out of 10.

The rest of the team was equally taken by this masterpiece. "This is the best Nintendo game ever made," said Jim. Martin called it "one of the best Nintendo games ever made." There was not a single complaint in the bunch. In most years that would be enough for a higher ranking and some year-end awards, but it ultimately lost out to Castlevania III and our next game.
Mega Man 3
When it comes to the Mega Man 2 vs. Mega Man 3 debate, Electronic Gaming Monthly definitely has a favorite. Showing up with nothing but 9s, Mega Man 3 wipes the floor with its predecessor, which only managed to get 8s. What's more, the Blue Bomber ended up winning the Best Sequel to an Existing Game award, which is why he's ranked just ahead of Super Mario Bros. 3.

Awards aside, there are a lot of reasons to love this sequel. "Mega Man 3 is better than the first two games put together," starts Ed. "The storyline is familiar, but totally different, with new enemies to learn and overcome, not to mention a surprise ending." Sushi-X said that Mega Man is "a guy that just keeps getting better." Martin wasn't nearly as restrained: "Mega Man's back and he's mega hot, with everything you've come to expect from a Mega Man game." With an average of 9 out of 10 and a Best Sequel award under its belt, Mega Man 3 manages to sit comfortably in fourth place.
Ninja Spirit
Let me sum up 1990 this way: This was the year Ninja Gaiden was beat up by Ninja Spirit. Going into 1990, I would have put money on Ninja Gaiden II being the better game. I mean, it was the best reviewed ninja game of 1989 and a breakout hit for Tecmo. And then Ninja Spirit came out of nowhere and knifed Ryu Hayabusa right in the gut. At least, according to Electronic Gaming Monthly.

"Simply the BEST ninja game ever," raved Sushi-X. And he would know, because he's a pretend ninja. "The movement of the ninja is unique and the weapons awesome!" Ed agreed, but wasn't ready to give it a perfect score. "Excellent cart which doesn't skimp on the action, graphics or original oriental music." Hmm. Is "oriental music" a term people use these days? Maybe I should just move on.

It probably won't come as a surprise that Ninja Spirit ended up winning the Best TurboGrafx-16 Game of the Year award, which is one of the reasons why it's ranked so high on this list. Although Steve ended up giving Ninja Spirit a solid 8, Sushi's perfect score moved the average up to a 9 out of 10.
So here's where things get tricky. By all accounts, Strider probably should have been the top rated game on this countdown. Not because I love the game (which I do), but rather because it was the magazine's pick for Game of the Year. It also won Best Graphics and was the leading reason why EGM named the Genesis the System of the Year. Yet here we are, talking about this incredible arcade conversation at the number 2 spot. I think it's safe to say that this episode will have a twist ending.

When it comes to the actual reviews, Sushi-X had a couple of questions: "Why is this game more popular now than when it was a coin-op game?" "How about the coin-op 'Willow' next?" While we never got that Willow port, I think the answer to the first question is obvious: It was a killer app on a system that was barely a year old. It was also a great translation, which is what Steve decided to talk about. "Like Ghouls 'n Ghosts, this Capcom arcade translation is done to near carbon-copy perfection on the Genesis." Martin complained about missing features from the coin-op, but he still said the game was "top class all the way."

To put some of the excitement into perspective, this was the first 8-meg cart released in North America. To be specific, that's 8 megabits, or 1 megabyte to people that are good at math. That may not sound like much, but it was more than double the average game size, which gave developers a lot more room to add detail to the visuals and keep all the levels from the arcade. Sure, it was quickly surpassed by Street Fighter II and other high profile games, but we shouldn't gloss over how big of a selling point this was in 1990. Strider averaged a 9 out of 10.
Super Monaco GP
Remember when I said that EGM gave four 10 out of 10s? Well, here's where that becomes important. They didn't give a perfect score to Super Mario Bros. 3, Castlevania III, Mega Man 3 or even Strider, their Game of the Year, but they did give Super Monaco GP two perfect 10s. That's right, Super Monaco GP; a racing game almost nobody remembers in 2017. I told you there would be a twist ending.

Despite EGM giving this game two perfect scores, it's actually the two guys that gave it 9s that seem the most enthusiastic. "This is video racing at its best," proclaims Steve. "Super Monaco GP is without a doubt the hottest racing game to ever come along for a home system," raves Martin. They're so much more excited than Ed, who gave the game a 10 and started his review stating that he likes racing games. At least he added that "there's nothing more realistic on any system," but where's the enthusiasm?

Sushi-X seems even less into it. "Totally realistic control and feel of Formula car racing. I got fired by three different race teams. Qualify in Senna. Race like Prost. Quit like Mansell. Try not to scrub off speed, be smooth and you can be World Champion." That may actually be most boring review I've ever read. Bland or not, they still gave the game two 9s and two 10s, which of course averages to a stellar 9.5. That's easily the best review score of 1990.


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