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Electronic Gaming Monthly's Top 10 Best Reviewed Games of 1991
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on July 12, 2017   |   Episode 106 (Show Archive)  

The year is 1991 and Ren & Stimpy proved that cats and dogs can get along. It was the year when Clarice met Hannibal Lecter, Pogs became a worldwide obsession and the Red Hot Chili Peppers were desperately trying to Give It Away. But we're not here to talk about how you've got to get it put it in you, reeling with the feeling don't stop continue, because today we're today we're counting down Electronic Gaming Monthly's top 10 reviewed games of 1991. Happy happy, joy joy.

Honorable Mentions
Between the launch of the Super NES and continued support for the Genesis, Game Boy, TurboGrafx-16 and Neo Geo, 1991 was a year full of landmark games. In fact, there were so many great games that we start the list with a four-way tie. To break this tie, I decided to turn to The Greatest 200 Games of Their Time feature published in Electronic Gaming Monthly's 200th issue. This not only helped to sort out 9th and 10th place, but it also brings us to our two honorable mentions.

Up first is Mega Man in Dr. Wily's Revenge for the Game Boy. The four critics were impressed with what Capcom was able to do with the limited hardware. Ed sums it up perfectly: "The Graphics are exceptional and virtually nothing has been sacrificed by going to the small screen." With a flurry of 8s and 9s, the Blue Bomber averages an 8.5 out of 10 for this black and white adventure.

The other honorable mention is Aero Blasters on the TurboGrafx-16. Ed, Martin and Steve all said pretty much the same thing. "Easily one of the best shooters for the Turbo yet;" "The best side scrolling shooter to hit the Turbo yet;" and "You can't ask for much more in a shooter!" But Steve just wasn't having it. He gave the game a 7, complaining that it "doesn't come close to Blazing Laziers." Aero Blasters shoots down an 8.5 average. Now let's see what actually made the list ...
Magician Lord
For those who only know the Neo Geo for their fighting games, there was a time when SNK's "24-bit" system was home to a wide variety of arcade games. The system launched with shooters like Cyber-Lip and NAM-1975, sports games like Baseball Stars Professional and Top Players Golf, and even a first-person brawler named The Super Spy. But the one game that truly stood out didn't star ninjas, athletes, space marines or soldiers, because the Neo Geo's first killer app was Magician Lord.

"Definitely a winner," gushes Steve. "Magician Lord has that perfect blend of advanced graphics and strong play, evenly spread out across a fantastic series of worlds." Martin echoed those thoughts. "Definitely the best Neo Geo game there is or ever will be." Well, now, let's not jump the gun on saying there will never be a better Neo Geo game. Samurai Shodown is pretty damn awesome.

When it came right down to it, the biggest complaint anybody had was that it was too expensive. Ed raved that "it has the graphics and sound like an arcade game, and it IS an arcade game. If you have a deep wallet why not get an arcade game?" I guess I see the logic in that, but you really did have to have deep pockets at the time.

It's probably worth mentioning that Magician Lord was released in 1990, which makes this an odd fit for a list about the best games of 1991. For reasons I have yet to figure out, Electronic Gaming Monthly waited almost a full year before reviewing any of the Neo Geo launch games. And even when they finally started talking about SNK's system, they only covered Magician Lord and Ninja Combat. Thankfully, it left an impact, because EGM named in the 179th best game of all time a quarter century later. That's a lot better than Ninja Combat.
When you wanted to show off the Super Nintendo's mind-blowing capabilities, you really only had two choices -- Pilotwings and F-Zero. One of those games let you fly high above the world, while the other turned out to be one of the best 16-bit racing games of all time. If this list only has room for one of them, I'm glad EGM went with F-Zero. While it lacked a multiplayer mode and could use a few more vehicles, this Nintendo racer is an absolute stunner that scored well with pretty much everybody.

As you can see, Martin tried his hardest to hold in his excitement: "This game is awesome!!! I've never enjoyed a driving game as much as I've enjoyed this cart." Ed agreed, noting that while he prefers "true" racing games, "this futuristic version has some very cool features" that won him over. They both gave it a 9 out of 10. This is slightly more generous than Steve and Sushi X, who both gave it an 8 and had some reservations. Overall, F-Zero averages out to an 8.5 out of 10.

Observant readers will remember that this is part of a four-way tie, which included Magician Lord, Mega Man in Dr. Wily's Revenge and Aero Blasters. So how did I break this tie? Simple! I once again went to The Greatest 200 Games of Their Time feature published in Electronic Gaming Monthly's 200th issue. F-Zero came in at number 69, wedged between Mortal Kombat II and NFL Football on the Intellivision. That's good company.
You might think that mashing together two completely disparate genres isn't all that novel, but it was practically unheard of in the early 1990s. When you bought an action game, you knew you were getting an action game through and through. But that wasn't the case for ActRaiser, a genre-bending adventure from Enix that debuted shortly after the Super Nintendo's launch. Critics were confused and delighted by the game's mix of action and a SimCity-style god game. The result was magical, and it remains one of my favorite 16-bit games of all time.

In order to talk properly talk about ActRaiser, we first have to accept that Electronic Gaming Monthly reviewed it three different times with three completely different scores. Let me explain. EGM first reviewed ActRaiser in their 25th issue in a section called the Super NES Video Game Buyer's Guide. Instead of getting a quote from each critic, this supplement published a brief overview of the game and listed out the scores without details. As you can see, both Steve and Martin gave it a 9, while Ed and Sushi-X went slightly lower with 8s.

One month later, the same four critics reviewed the game once again, this time using their typical format. They loved it, giving it all 9s and calling it one of the Super Nintendo's best games. "Truly awesome," raved Sushi X. "This is the quest/RPG game which all others will be compared to, no matter what system the game is on." Ed agreed, concluding that "finding a game better than this is going to be hard to do."

Now here's where things get even weirder. A few months go by and Electronic Gaming Monthly publishes their 1992 Video Game Buyer's Guide, where they end up listing out most of the reviews found in that year's issues. They published the original text, but gave ActRaiser completely different scores. Now we have Steve and Ed giving the game an 8, Martin with a 7 and Sushi X the only one keeping a 9. Sure, this is probably just a typo and it should have kept the 9 scores, but it's still weird. When we average all twelve scores together, we see ActRaiser at a very confusing 8.6 out of 10.
In a year full of great 2D shoot-em-ups, Gaiares stands above them all. And you don't need to take my word for it, because this guy wants you to know that this game "really smokes." With his goofy smile and iconic mullet, "professional gamer" Jamie Bunker quickly became the face of Gaiares. He was there to tell you that Renovation's space shooter was number one. And whenever the critics gave the game high scores, he was there to remind you that "these guys think Gaiares is awesome." If you want to know how rad Gaiares is, then Jamie's your guy.

All joking aside, Gaiares is a pretty special shoot-em-up, and Electronic Gaming Monthly agreed. "Games just don't get any better than this," exclaims Ed. "The graphics, game play, challenge level, sound ... everything is about the best ever in a Genesis cart." Sushi X was even more impressed, telling Thunder Force III to "move over." "Once I started playing the game, I couldn't put it down."

Steve wasn't nearly as taken by Gaiares than his colleagues, wondering if the 8-megs of memory used could be considered overkill. To his credit, he still liked the game. "Gaiares is one of those few titles that puts a new face on an old genre, but succeeds in the process." Overall, Gaiares averaged an 8.75 out of 10.
Operation C
Between a Battletoads prequel, a Kid Icarus sequel and a Mega Man game where Dr. Wily finally got his revenge, 1991 was a pretty great year for the Game Boy. It was made even better by the existence of Operation C, which was not only the third proper Contra game, but also the best reviewed handheld game of the year. Take that Castlevania II: Belmont's Revenge.

Steve starts us off with a heavy dose of hyperbole. "I was very surprised when I played this game. Operation C on the Game Boy? Impossible? Wrong! This version of the arcade smash is better than the NES counterpart!" Sushi X agreed wholeheartedly: "The previous NES Contras were god, but this game kicks ...!" He even called it the "best Game Boy game ever."

The truth is, Sushi X wasn't wrong. EGM had reviewed a total of 45 Game Boy games between 1989 and 1991, and Operation C is the first to score an average of 9. In fact, EGM would go another two years before seeing another Game Boy title earn the same score. Simply put, Operation C is one of the best reviewed Game Boy games of all time. That's impressive, but I'm still not sure it's better than the NES counterparts.
Kabuki Quantum Fighter
One thing I love about these lists is that there's always an oddball game that makes the cut. I mean, we expect big titles like ActRaiser and F-Zero on the board, but who would have guessed that Kabuki Quantum Fighter would make its way to number 5? But before you think EGM is crazy, you should hear out their reasoning. There's a case to be made that this game should be remembered as an 8-bit classic.

"Quantum Fighter is incredible," raves Steve. He loved everything about it, from the "acrobatic flips and techniques" to the cinema scenes that are comparable to Ninja Gaiden. Martin said Kabuki Quantum Fighter is actually more intense than Ninja Gaiden, which is high praise indeed. Ed wasn't as interested in making the comparison, as he couldn't believe "how they pulled off these type of graphics on the NES." All four men gave Kabuki Quantum Fighter a 9 out of 10, recommending gamers play it immediately. Gamers didn't listen, and these days this 8-bit classic is all but forgotten.
Streets of Rage
As far as I'm concerned, 1991 can be summed up as a year with two feuds. On one side we had Mario vs. Sonic, while in the other corner it was Final Fight vs. Streets of Rage. These were the battles that defined a year where everybody wanted to know what was better -- Genesis or Super NES?

When it came to the feud between Final Fight and Streets of Rage, Sega's action-packed masterpiece won with a decisive blow. It was everything Capcom's brawler should have been. Streets of Rage offered two-person multiplayer, more levels, several characters to choose from and faster combat. Electronic Gaming Monthly took notice and gave it all 9s, whereas Final Fight could only scrape up a few 7s.

"Final Fight move over," shouts Sushi X. "This is the type of fighting game I've been waiting for since Fighting Street." Ed called it "easily the best fighting game ever with moves that are unique." Steve said it's the "real version of Double Dragon for the Genesis." And if that wasn't enough, EGM's Hottest Video Game Babe award went to Streets of Rage. What an honor.
Even with the launch of the Super NES and all the big hitters on the Genesis, 1991 was still a great year for the Nintendo Entertainment System. While Quantum Fighter was pretty damn cool, it was Battletoads that stole the show. This was the game that proved that Nintendo's 8-bitter still had some life left in it, and made even the most cynical brawler fan sit up and take notice. Battletoads was a stellar game, and it was rewarded with some of the best review scores of the year. And not just form Electronic Gaming Monthly, but from everybody.

"Awesome! Awesome! Awesome!" Martin loved Battletoads. "Amazing graphics and animation will blow you away! Best of all the game is extremely fun to play, a quality that's hard to find on any system." Fake ninja Sushi X gave his thesaurus a workout when he said "Excellent! Radical! Most Triumphant!! If Battletoads doesn't make you laugh at the hysterical animations, or fry your brain cells with utter amazement, you are reading the wrong mag!" If that doesn't do anything for you, both Ed and Martin agreed that Battletoads nearly got a perfect 10 out of 10. That seems to be a reoccurring theme.

While it may have missed that perfect score by this much, Battletoads did manage to walk away with the NES Game of the Year award in their 1992 Video Game Buyer's Guide. It was also named the Most Challenging Video Game of the Year, which makes a ton of sense. Between the awards and all that talk about nearly getting a 10, Battletoads deserves its spot at number 3.
Super Mario World
And here we are; this is the showdown we've all been waiting for. With the Super NES launching with Super Mario World and Sega debuting Sonic the Hedgehog, it was only a matter of time before these two platformers got into the year's biggest fight. At first glance, it would appear as though Electronic Gaming Monthly liked these games equally. But upon closer investigation, it's obvious why Super Mario World is sitting at number 2.

Don't get me wrong, the editors at Electronic Gaming Monthly loved the Super NES launch game, but it felt like a lot of the air had been sucked out of their reviews. "While Super Mario World may not be the ideal cart to show off all the fancy things that the Super NES can do," explained Steve, "it is a solid continuation of the Mario series." Solid continuation? That's not what I call an enthusiastic review. The same thing could be said about Ed. "Easily the best Mario adventure yet, but I had hoped that Nintendo would do more with the game than just make another Mario adventure." These guys seem almost depressed.

Good thing Sushi X is here, because he's just about the only one who sounds genuinely excited about Super Mario World. "Here you have it! The ultimate Mario adventure." Now, that's more like it. But even though the game blew him away, Sushi was still ready to give Sega the win. "Only one game in this genre rates higher in my book, but since tens are impossible, Sonic will have to share the same rating." Wait ... 10s are impossible? Is this the same Sushi X that gave both Ninja Spirit and Super Monaco GP perfect scores in 1990? What the hell are you even talking about?
Sonic the Hedgehog
You want to know the reason why the critics at Electronic Gaming Monthly seemed underwhelmed by Super Mario World? The answer is obvious, and his name is Sonic the Hedgehog. Just look at the timing: EGM reviewed Sega's speedy mascot just one month before Mario. Sonic stole Nintendo's thunder to such a degree that they had a hard time going back to just another Mario adventure. They still recognized the great gameplay and level designs, but things just weren't the same after Sonic. The EGM editors were stunned.

"Super Sonic, Super Sonic ... Sonic is Super all right," yells Sushi X. "The Genesis shouldn't be able to put Nintendo's 16-banger to shame so early in the contest." The critics sensed that this was going to be a big deal for Sega. "This game is absolutely unbelievable! If you don't get it, it's because you don't have a Genesis ... Yet." Steve even called it "definitely, without a doubt, positively the most incredible action game ever created for the Genesis." And I think they would all agree with his conclusion: "Excellent, excellent, excellent."

If there was any doubt which platformer Electronic Gaming Monthly preferred, that question was answered when they named Sonic the Hedgehog the 1991 Game of the Year. It also walked away with awards for Genesis Game of the Year and Hottest Character in a Game. "The popular comparison may be Mario 4 on the Super NES vs. Sonic the Hedgehog on the Genesis, but when it comes right down to it, Sonic is the clear winner." If you disagree, then you better take it up with Steve, Ed, Martin and that fake ninja, Sushi X.


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