Okay, so basically I’m gonna go by original release year on this. If it was released in Japan a year earlier, I’ll go by that, and vice versa. Exception if it’s an arcade port or a significant remake. For instance, if there was an awesome version of Frogger released on the Genesis in 1993, that would be fair game, even though the original Frogger came out in 1981. Home games only. Anything for a console or computer counts.
Some historical context, as briefly as I can. Nintendo releases the SNES. Sega Genesis has been out for two years, but Sonic hasn’t been invented yet so people have trouble caring. Sega doesn’t have the third party support Nintendo has, i.e. exclusivity contracts with Capcom, Konami and Squaresoft. The Genesis will eventually give Nintendo a run for their money, but not right now. Game Boy was released a year prior, and Sega releases the Game Gear this year to compete with it. Spoiler warning: Nintendo really wins that one. Meanwhile, Nintendo is still releasing a lot of games for the NES, and will continue to for a couple more years. People have long ago decided not to give a shit about the Sega Master System or Atari 7800, and with the SNES being the new competition for the Genesis, the NES is pretty much running unopposed in the 8-bit gaming market.
5. Strider (Sega Genesis - Capcom)
Strider was released in 1989 as an arcade game. I guess Capcom decided to throw Sega a bone and let them port this while they continued making Mega Man and other awesome games for Nintendo. A lot of the Genesis’ earlier successes were arcade ports, and this is probably the best one. Strider is basically a sidescrolling beat-em-up set in the future. You run, climb and use your laser sword to beat down robots in front of bright futuristic backgrounds. The graphics are really good, the music is pretty sweet, and it’s just some really fun shit to play. At one point early in the game, you storm into the Soviet senate, and they all form together into a robot dragon who then attacks you. That’s all you need to really know about Strider.
4. F-Zero (SNES - Nintendo)
I really don’t like racing games, but F-Zero is just all sorts of fun. It was the first game to utilize the Super Nintendo’s Mode 7 graphics, which (I think) is just a cool way to give the vague illusion of 3D “camera” movement using 2D backgrounds and sprites. Prior to Mode 7, racing games were played from a high up bird’s eye perspective, which was far less engaging. Starting with F-Zero, racing games were done with the “camera” following right behind the vehicle, or inside it. Think of how it must have been to play this when it first came out. Never before had a driving game made it seem so much like you were “there”. Anyway, F-Zero was ridiculously fast paced for its time. You fly around in futuristic rocket hover cars, trying your best not to crash, while trying to slam your opponents into walls to get ahead. The challenge is basically trying to win the race without exploding, which can be surprisingly hard. With stellar and immersive gameplay and some of the best music ever in video games, it’s no wonder why it sold so well, and spawned a few sequels on later systems.
3. Actraiser (SNES - Quintet)
What a weird fucking game. It’s really hard to describe if you haven’t played it. Basically, you’re some sort of ancient god who has just awoken to fight some sort of evil. The way you gain power is through prayer and worship from humans. So most of what you do in the game is help rebuild all these human cities, SimCity style. Then, when you have enough power to fight some monsters, it turns into a Castlevania style side-scrolling action thing. You can fight any time you want, but if you don’t have enough power, you’re gonna get your ass kicked. It really makes you put a lot of care and effort into helping out your people. There really aren’t any games like this. It’s incredibly unique, and somewhat obscure. Play it if you haven’t. You can get on Wii’s Virtual Console thingy. In addition to being a one-of-a-kind experience, the combat sections of the game have a pretty fucking badass soundtrack.
2. Mega Man 3 (NES - Capcom)
One of the hardest video game questions you can ask me is whether I prefer Mega Man 2 or Mega Man 3. However, I think in most ways Mega Man 3 is better. It’s a lot more balanced as far as difficulty. The American version of Mega Man 2 had two difficulty levels. One was way too easy and the other was balls-hard. Mega Man 3 doesn’t have difficulty settings, and I find it challenging but playable. Mega Man can power slide in 3, which adds an extra tactical element absent from 2. It also has a more concrete robot master chain (i.e. this guy’s weapon is strong against that guy. And then that guy’s weapon is strong against that other guy). In addition to all of this, Mega Man 3 introduced the characters of Proto Man and Rush, who would be hugely important (and awesome) for the rest of the classic series. On the other hand, Mega Man 2 has some really great level design, and by far the best soundtrack of any game on the NES. So it’s hard to say, really. What I can say is that both games are way better than 4 and 5, which were total dogshit. Fuck Mega Mans 4 and 5. And to a lesser extent 6. (7 is pretty good).
1. Super Mario World (SNES - Nintendo)
It seems like most people take it as a given that Super Mario Bros. 3 was the best 2D Mario game. They accept it as a fact. However, I think Super Mario World is the superior game. First, let’s the music out of the way. It’s a little more on the fun cartoony side, but it’s still really good. Super Mario World had a great open…well, world. You can go back to any place on the map you’ve been to already, and replay any level you want. Most levels had secrets and multiple ways of completing them, which led you down different paths on the map, so playing levels multiple times was a necessity if you were into exploring. SMW introduced the world to the badass beave-pounding dinosaur we all know as Yoshi. I think the key, though, is that it simplified some things that I think really needed to be simplified. You want a power up? You’ve got your mushroom, your fire flower, and your cape feather. And that’s all you really need. When the fuck did the frog suit or the tanooki suit or the giant shoe ever come in handy? Never. SMW cut them out. In its place, Yoshi could provide a fun level of customization. Depending on what color koopa shells he ate, he could grow wings, or breathe fire, or pound motherfuckers into the ground really hard. You could also get different colored variations of Yoshi who would do one of these things no matter what color shell he ate, plus the effect of whatever color the shell was on top of that (e.g. a red yoshi with a blue shell would fly and breath fire). Everything about this game is really, really well done. It is fucking fun, provides an element of adventure that no Mario game really had before, and it has no filler. It is the perfect 2D platformer and the best game of 1990.