Classic Nintendo Power Reviews

Between 1993 and 1997, Nintendo Power magazine reviewed newly-released video games using a uniquely succinct format: they’d note the game’s most attractive feature, followed by its least attractive one. This “plus-and-minus” approach was used for 55 straight issues (issues 45 through 100), before beging abruptly ditched in issue 101, in favor of a new, less compelling review system featuring vapid snippets of “staff commentary.”

Here are the Nintendo Power plus-and-minus reviews for titles that they would later judge to be among the greatest games of all time. Looking back, it’s interesting to observe how games now considered untouchable classics were often perceived with considerably more nuance in their own time. But of course, the opposite is true as well — some titles that have not aged well at all were given over-the-top praise when first released. You can judge for yourself if the magazine was overly fawning to first-party titles, as they were often accused.

All of the following content is copyright Nintendo Power, and has been transcribed directly from my own collection. If you’re interested in tracking down more old Nintendo Power content, I highly recommend the directory of back issues found at GamingMagz.

Alien3, 1993 (SNES, Acclaim)
Issue 50:

 Great action, excellent graphics and sound and a wide variety of missions to keep things interesting. Maybe the best action adventure since Super Star Wars!

 There’s no mapping feature to help locate your position within the vast maze of the prison compound. Blueprints of the prison can be accessed only at computer terminals or in Nintendo Power’s review next month.

Black-Thorne, 1994 (SNES, Blizzard)
Issue 64:

 Great animation and terrific sound effects bring this game to life. Total fun! No one, not even the good guys, are safe from your wrath. Passwords let you continue this lengthy adventure at your own pace.

 Better play control than other games with this sort of animation like Out Of This World, Price of Persia, and Flashback, but still a bit slow.

Blast Corps, 1997 (N64, Rare)
Issue 95:

 Innovative game play. Great graphics. Lots of levels.

 The play control for some vehicles is not intuitive.

Breath of Fire, 1994 (SNES, Squaresoft)
Issue 62:

 Good depth and variety of play due to the many characters in your party. The game isn’t as linear as some RPGs such as Final Fantasy II. Lots of exploration without endless battles required for building your levels.

 Limited magic. More fighting than adventure fans might like. Standard story and themes.

Bust-a-Move, 1995 (SNES, Taito)

[Strangely, Nintendo Power reviewed this game twice, in two back-to-back issues:]

(1st time) Issue 70:

 It’s fun, and not as simple as it looks.

 You can’t always aim the cannon with precision.

(2nd time) Issue 71:

 Play control is very good and intuitive.

 Not enough variety. Even more puzzles would be nice.

Chrono Trigger, 1995 (SNES, Squaresoft)
Issue 75:

 Excellent graphics, depth, sound, replay value. Battery backed-up memory with three slots.

 You’ll be spoiled for every other RPG.

Demon’s Crest, 1994 (SNES, Capcom)
Issue 67:

 Excellent graphics, play control, game balance and sound. Password. Hidden areas and surprises.

 Capcom has ordered a limited number of Game Paks, so supplies could be limited. 

Donkey Kong Country, 1994 (SNES, Rare)
Issue 66:

 The ultimate graphics in the best action adventure game ever for the Super NES or any video game system. It’s simply the best. Battery backed-up memory. 100 bonus areas.

 Players may miss many of the bonus areas and think the game is shorter than it really is. (You must try everything to get the full impact!)

Donkey Kong Country 2, 1995 (SNES, Rare)
Issue 79:

 Awesome graphics, game play and sound. New characters. Improved A.I. More than 100 areas.

 Doesn’t have Donkey Kong until the end. Quite a bit more challenging than the original, so don’t expect a free ride.

Donkey Kong Country 3: Dixie Kong’s Double Trouble, 1996 (SNES, Rare)
Issue 90:

 Stunning graphics. More variety than the first two DKC games. 48 regular stages, seven secret stages and dozens of bonus areas. Three game save files.

 No Donkey or Diddy.

Earthbound, 1995 (SNES, Nintendo)
Issue 73:

 A great story, fun graphics, good sound effects.

 Frequent, sometimes tedious battles. Poorly designed inventory system limits how many items you can carry.

Earthworm Jim, 1994 (SNES, Shiny)
Issue 66:

 Great animation and variety of play. Great irreverent, twisted sense of humor. Wonderful cast of enemy characters. Cow launching!

 Play control feels loose and takes some getting used to. Unclear stage paths can cause some frustration.

Earthworm Jim 2, 1995 (SNES, Shiny)
Issue 80:

 Off-beat humor. Excellent graphics and sound. Lots of variety. Improved play control from the original.

 A little uneven. Some stages are very simple and others are very tough. The humor may not be for everyone.

Final Fantasy III, 1994 (SNES, Squaresoft)
Issue 65:

 A big game that will take at least 100 hours to complete. Battery backed-up memory with three slots. Lots to see and do.

 Story is often sappy — not written for an American audience. Animations are weak and animated sequences take too long.

Goldeneye, 1997 (N64, Rare)
Issue 99:

 Stunning, realistic graphics. Great game design for one or multiple players. Good use of the Rumble Pak. Excellent sound. Lots of hidden codes. One of the best games we’ve ever played.

 The quality of animation is so good that the death throes of victims may make players squeamish.

Illusion of Gia, 1994 (SNES, Nintendo)
Issue 65:

 Great graphics, fun story, great variety of game play and lots of depth. The best adventure game of the year. An exclusive Nintendo Power Explorer’s Guide comes with the game.

 More linear than Zelda games, but the plot is more involved, as well. Players will want even more.

International Superstar Soccer 64, 1997 (N64, Konami)
Issue 98:

 Excellent, intuitive game play and control. Some of the best AI in any sports game. Synchronous play-by-play.

 Real player names not used. Number of special moves is limited.

Killer Instinct, 1995 (SNES, Rare)
Issue 76:

 The best tournament fighting game ever for the Super NES. Excellent graphics, challenge, fun, sound. The Super NES game of the year.

 Not an “exact” arcade replica.

Killer Instinct Gold, 1996 (N64, Rare)
Issue 91:

 Incredible graphics. Incredible speed. Very cool practice and training modes.

 The analog control stick takes some getting used to in this game.

Kirby’s Adventure (NES, Nintendo)
Issue 48:

 Great variety of stages, good play control and fun action are the strengths of this game. The background graphics are excellent for the NES.

 The theme may be younger than the challenge. The regular sized Kirby still seems small, and the tiny Kirby seems almost microscopic.

Kirby’s Dreamland 2, 1995 (GB, Nintendo)
Issue 72:

 More game play and strategies than in previous Kirby games thanks to the round one’s new pals. Excellent play control, lots of variety and great fun.

 Simple graphics. (Although the graphics don’t detract from the play, some non-initiates may think the game is only for beginners. Ha!)

Lufia & the Fortress of Doom, 1993 (SNES, Taito)
Issue 54:

 Easy to play with nice graphics and battery saved memory.

 RPG fans won’t find very much challenge here. The story, graphics, and game design offer nothing new.

Mario Kart 64, 1997 (N64, Nintendo)
Issue 93:

 Great fun. Four-player action. Excellent graphics and play control.

 Individual screens in the four-player mode are too small to see details on small televisions.

Mega Man VI, 1994 (NES, Capcom)
Issue 55:

 Excellent graphics, play control and challenge.

 The only real weakness is the lack of originality.

Mega Man 7, 1995 (SNES, Capcom)
Issue 77:

 Great graphics and play control.

 Few surprises.

Mega Man X, 1994 (SNES, Capcom)
Issue 56:

 Great control and fun, challenging play.

 The theme remains the same as the Game Boy and NES Mega Man titles.

Mega Man X2, 1995 (SNES, Capcom)
Issue 69:

 Excellent play control. Fun and challenging.

 The format is basically the same as every other Mega Man game.

Mega Man X3, 1996 (SNES, Capcom)
Issue 81:

 Good graphics, play control and lots of action. Fun.

 If you’ve played one Mega Man game.

Mortal Kombat II, 1994 (SNES, Acclaim)
Issue 64:

 Excellent graphics, sound and play control. All the fatalities, babalities, and friendship movies are included in their original form. Graphic realism unequaled on other platforms. Lots of secrets.

 Depictions of violence may turn off some players.

NBA Jam, 1994 (SNES, Acclaim)
Issue 58:

 Great graphics, cool moves, and totally involving action for up to four players is a hard combination to beat.

 The game lacks in these specific areas: none. If you want a sports simulation, this game isn’t it, but if you want fun, look no further.

NBA Live ’95, 1994 (SNES, EA)
Issue 66:

 Excellent animation and AI. New perspective for EA Sports B-ball. Every option and aid to play you can think of. Battery backed-up memory. 1994 schedules and rosters. Trading.

 Passing is a challenge. Very fast action may leave casual players in the dust.

The NHLPA & NHL Present Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey, 1996 (N64, Midway)
Issue 91:

 A great hockey experience. Four-player. Excellent graphics, sound, playability.

 No automatic save feature without a Controller Pak.

Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen, 1995 (SNES, Enix)
Issue 71:

 Very deep with multiple endings for good replay value.

 Unusual game design and a slow learning curve.

Pilotwings 64, 1996 (N64, Nintendo)
Issue 88:

 An amazing flight experience. Great graphics and play control. You don’t even have to achieve a goal to have fun in this game.

 Missiles don’t leave any permanent damage.

Secret of Mana, 1993 (SNES, Squaresoft)
Issue 54:

 Beautiful graphics and great depth of play, which includes real-time battles, puzzle solving, and exploration. With the Multitap, you can have a five-player [sic] adventure!

 The requirement of powering-up your sword makes battles unnecessarily long and tedious. The method for selecting items is awkward.

Shadowrun, 1993 (SNES, Data East)
Issue 48:

 Fans of Shadowrun have got to cheer for this faithful video version of the FASA RPG. The action and adventure elements of this game take it beyond the realm of standard RPGs. A great story and depth of play.

 The graphic characters are small and not very detailed. Scrolling through the key words during conversations becomes repetitious. The game play at the beginning is without clear goals, which can be frustrating.

Star Fox (SNES, Nintendo)
Issue 47:

 Excellent control of the spaceship, 3-D effects and sound. The three courses give the game replayability and make it a challenge for any skill level.

 The polygon graphics lack detail. Hit detection on some objects, such as asteroids, seems to extend well beyond the object itself, resulting in unexpected crashes.

Star Fox 64, 1997 (N64, Nintendo)
Issue 98:

 Excellent graphics and play control. Incredibly immersive. Rumble pak raves.

 No stage save function.

Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire, 1996 (N64, Lucas Arts)
Issue 92:

 Great graphics. Great shooting action. Great sound. Great hidden stuff. Great [sic] wampas. Great game!

 Some awkward camera positions and movement. INCREDIBLY difficult at high AI levels.

Street Fighter II Turbo, 1993 (SNES, Capcom)
Issue 51:

 Everything that was great about the first game is still there, plus faster characters and some new moves.

 Although the play control differences will mean a lot to loyal Street Fighter II players, they may not justify the step up for casual players.

Super Bomberman 2, 1994 (SNES, Hudson)
Issue 64:

 If you haven’t played Super Bomberman (1 or 2) with four players, you haven’t lived. Lots of new items have been included. Fun.

 No six, eight, or twelve player option. Not quite enough challenge in the adventure mode.

Super Mario 64, 1996 (N64, Nintendo)
Issue 88:

 A new standard for action games. Incredible graphics, sound and variety of play.

 Shifting camera angles take some getting used to.

Super Mario All-Stars (SNES,  Nintendo)
Issue 52:

 Excellent graphics and classic Super Mario Bros. action. The battery backed-up memory lets you save your progress, which means players who never finished these games in the past have a good chance to succeed now. The Lost Levels presents a true action challenge.

 Other than the face-lift, the only new element is The Lost Levels and the Battery Save feature.

Super Mario RPG, 1996 (SNES, Squaresoft)
Issue 84:

 Beautiful graphics and sound. A great variety of game play. Battery backed-up memory.

 The inclusion of the term RPG in the title may be misleading. It’s not just a RPG — it’s an action-packed adventure.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, 1995 (SNES, Nintendo)
Issue 77:

 Super graphics and game play. Excellent play control. Tons of variety. Special bonus areas. Battery backed-up memory.

 Baby Mario’s crying may be the most obnoxious sound in the known universe.

Super Metroid, 1994 (SNES, Nintendo)
Issue 60:

 Excellent graphics, sound and stellar play control. There’s lots of variety, secrets, twists, turns and challenge.

 Even 100 megabits of Metroid wouldn’t be enough.

Super Street Fighter II (SNES, Capcom)
Issue 62:

 Great play control and new characters, moves and options. Total fun.

 This is the Street Fighter II that fans should have, but they may not be willing to shell out more bucks.

Tetris Attack, 1996
Issue 87:

 Very involving. Excellent two-player action.

 It may take over your life.

Tetrisphere, 1997 (N64, Nintendo)
Issue 99:

 Good graphics and sound. Very involving game play. Lots of modes.

 Difficult to figure out if you don’t go through the training mode.

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, 1997 (N64, Acclaim)
Issue 94:

 Huge areas. Great animation. Awesome weapons. Cool codes.

 Difficult jumping. The moving view exhausts some players.

Waverace 64, 1996 (N64, Nintendo)
Issue 90:

 Stunning graphics. Staggeringly realistic feel and control.

 The voice-over gets monotonous quickly.

Zombies Ate My Neighbors, 1993 (SNES, Konami)
Issue 51:

 Great humor and innovations and fun graphics highlight this game. Lots of household weapons and potions give you a wide range of zombing[sic]-fighting options. Each of the more than 45 stages is unique with different backgrounds and specialized zombies.

 Most of the zombies, as the name implies, are pretty mindless and don’t present a lot of challenge. Weapons aren’t always located in the stages where they are virtually essential. You don’t get passwords for each stage.

… and the worst

For fun, here’s the at-the-time reviews of some of Nintendo Power’s 10 “worst games” ever, as listed in their 100th issue.

The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle and Friends, 1993 (SNES, T*HQ)
Issue 50:

 The graphics and music faithfully reproduce the look and sound of the cartoon. The bonus stages give players a different look and different play actions. The Continue feature lets you begin at the furthest stage you’ve reached. The Suggested Retail Price is very reasonable!

 Play control is limited for each character and in some cases is awkward. Bullwinkle’s antler attack is a limited and awkward offensive move. Hit detection is poor, especially when jumping to narrow platforms. Little of the actual humor of the cartoon is conveyed in the game.

Barbie: Super Model, 1993
Issue 57:

 Barbie fans will love the interactive nature of this super dress up game.

 The typical player probably won’t find anything of interest. Expect a sort of Sim Model experience.

Bebe’s Kids, 1994 (SNES, Mandingo)
Issue 56:

 Nice graphics and sound.

 Extremely slow action. Enemies take huge amounts of damage so battles seem endless. Poor play control.

Beethoven: The Ultimate Canine Caper, 1993 (SNES, Hi-Tech)
Issue 56:

 Some of the digitized graphics look okay when they’re not in motion.

 Very poor animation and play control. Lack of depth and low challenge.

Michael Jordan: Chaos in the Windy City, 1994 (SNES, EA)
Issue 67:

 Michael has some cool moves. Passwords. Good graphics.

 Play control seems loose at times. Generic platform game enemies with simple AI.

Shaq-Fu, 1994 (SNES, EA)
Issue 66:

 A fun idea with some good graphics and animation. (Players should keep in mind that there is no basketball at all in this game.)

 Not a very challenging fighting game when fighting the computer. Play control isn’t sharp. Small characters.