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Nintendo Power's Top 10 Reviewed Games of 1990
By Cyril Lachel     |   Posted on October 13, 2015   |   Episode 85 (Show Archive)  

The year is 1990. Vanilla Ice is conquering hip hop with Ice Ice Baby, Twin Peaks is changing the television landscape and Macaulay Culkin became everybody's new best friend when Home Alone topped the box office. But this isn't a show about cheering on a child attempting to murder middle aged men, because today we're counting down Nintendo Power's Top Ten Games of 1990.

Between January and December, Nintendo Power managed to review a total of 163 games across two different platforms. Of those games, 148 were for the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System, with only 15 showing up on Game Boy. Based solely on the review scores, these are Nintendo Power's favorite games of 1990.

Narrowly outscoring both Final Fantasy and Dragon Warrior II, Crystalis was Nintendo Power's top rated Japanese adventure game. While most games in the genre take their cues from high fantasy, this SNK oddity took a futuristic approach that helped set it apart from the competition. Nintendo Power was impressed with the quick character controls and weapon selection. The other magazines weren't as excited, but still had a good time with the Zelda-clone. Electronic Gaming Monthly concluded that there's "nothing new here" and the post-apocalyptic setting isn't enough to keep the adventure fresh. With a better rating for play control and challenge, Crystalis squeaks by a number of traditional role-playing games you've actually heard of.
According to Nintendo Power, the year's best looking game wasn't Super Mario Bros. 3 or Ninja Gaiden II, but rather Pinbot. That's right, Pinbot. Developed by Rare and published by Nintendo, the editors at Nintendo Power raved about the stunning presentation and gameplay. They rated the graphics at a 4.9 out of 5, higher than any other game released in 1990. For a Nintendo game, Pinbot didn't get much coverage from the other outlets. Most magazines ignored the pinball simulator, with only Computers + Video Games logging a second opinion. For what it's worth, CVG liked Pinbot, giving it 90% and specifically calling out the great graphics.
Super C
Super C was the most consistent game of 1990, and not just because it was another great Konami sequel. Between the graphics, sound, play control, challenge, theme and fun, this 25 year old shooter scored 4.1 out of 5 across the board. Nintendo Power loved the non-stop action and wide assortment of weapons, and felt it was ultimately more of the same. That sentiment was echoed over at Electronic Gaming Monthly, where all four editors scored the game 8 out of 10. They enjoyed the new overhead stages and tougher boss fights. Both Nintendo Power and EGM agreed that this sequel was more challenging than the original and can lead to frustration.
Dr. Mario
He may not be able to show you his credentials, but a 4.1 from Nintendo Power is enough to earn Dr. Mario a spot on this list. The magazine praised the two-player action and cute characters, while also rightly noting that this is derivative of other puzzle games. They compare it to Tetris, but I would point to Puyo Puyo. While Nintendo Power loved Dr. Mario, not every critic agreed. Ed Semrad at Electronic Gaming Monthly said the game comes up "way short," and wanted to know where the fun was hiding. Good or bad, Dr. Mario is the only Game Boy release to break into the top 10.
Little Nemo: The Dream Master
Managing to outscore even Mega Man III, Little Nemo: The Dream Master was Capcom's best reviewed game of 1990. For whatever reason, Nintendo Power decided to pitch this as a Super Mario Bros. 3 clone, suggesting that anybody who loves animal suits and fantasy settings will fall in love with Little Nemo. Most other magazines were more muted in their admiration. EGM gave the game a couple of 7s. They liked the Disney-style graphics, but felt that the action was held back for younger players. "It's Rescue Rangers in a dream world," Ed accurately notes. Nintendo Power didn't seem to mind, but there's a chance they would have given any game a high score if it incorporated animal suits.
Star Tropics
Star Tropics is a strange mix between The Legend of Zelda, Dragon Warrior, Crystalis and Ultima 4, and Nintendo Power loved it. Between the tropical setting and tough challenge, the editor's couldn't wait to spend months giving their readers the hard sell. Funnily enough, many other critics disliked the very things Nintendo Power loved. Giving it a 4 out of 10, Electronic Gaming Monthly's Sushi-X felt the game was too derivative. "What amazes me the most about Star Tropics is the lack of any originality whatsoever." He wasn't alone, the magazine's highest score was a 6, and even then Ed Semrad was trying his hardest to find anything good to say about Star Tropics.
Maniac Mansion
Every year Nintendo Power falls in love with one unorthodox computer port. If you thought Shadowgate showing up as the second best game of 1989 was a fluke, then get ready to explain the placement of Maniac Mansion. While this list is dominated by action games, this PC port was able to win Nintendo Power over with its weird sense of humor and clever story. It led to one of the greatest magazine covers of all time. Oddly enough, Nintendo Power gave the graphic adventure game more exposure than all other magazines combined. You won't find reviews in either GamePro or EGM, and the only other magazine to review this NES port tackled it two years after Nintendo Power.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Perhaps the most shocking news to come out of this list is that Super Mario Bros. 3 is not the year's top rated game. You might think that Nintendo Power would be preferential to the first-party games, but so far that hasn't been the case. A majority of the list comes from third-parties and Nintendo's most high profile game of the year couldn't make it past third place. On the other hand, there's one thing that is not in dispute: Nintendo Power covered Super Mario Bros. 3 more than any other game in 1990. The pudgy plumber found his way into nearly every issue, including a full strategy guide. And Nintendo Power wasn't alone, pretty much every magazine was devoting huge chunks of space to this seminal sequel.
Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos
Never underestimate the power of a great story. When Ninja Gaiden hit the scene, critics were immediately won over by its use of cinematic cut scenes to weave a complicated story about family and revenge. It only took Tecmo a year to release the sequel, and Nintendo Power loved every second of it. They not only gave The Dark Sword of Chaos an impressive 4.7 out of 5, but rewarded the slash-em-up with its own strategy guide. The other critics agreed, calling Ninja Gaiden a triumph on both a gameplay and storytelling level. Electronic Gaming Monthly raved that this is "probably the best sequel ever made."
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
In a year filled with major hitters, Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse comes out on top. Scoring a staggering 4.8 out of 5, this unseated The Three Stooges as Nintendo Power's top rated game. What's more, Castlevania III is the magazine's highest rated Nintendo Entertainment System game of all time. This impressive score held until 1992, when one game managed a 4.9. Nintendo Power wasn't the only magazine to fall in love with Konami's action game. GamePro gave it a perfect score, noting that Dracula's Curse combines the best elements from Castlevania I and II. Electronic Gaming Monthly also loved the game, calling the 8-bit graphics the best we'll ever see. No matter where you stand on this classic sequel, I think we can all agree Dracula's Curse is a better choice than The Three Stooges.
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