What is it about the Nintendo Entertainment System that even to this day, plays a large part in our lives? Is there anything else on the planet earth that can rival the nostalgia factor of this console? Nay, I say to thee. Nintendo will always be around based on the brand loyalty alone that systems like the NES and SNES and franchises like Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda bought them. NES is still a big business today. Just take a look at a store like Hot Topic or Spencer’s, where you can easily find all manners of 8-bit glory fully realized as 2007 merchandise: t-shirts, stickers, shoelaces, wallets… It’s old school, it’s retro, it’s cool. Heck, I’ve got a NES Controller t-shirt myself and I’m darn proud of it (even if it’s a bit tight these days). Then adding fuel to the fire is the Wii’s Virtual Console which allows us children of the 80s to continue to play those classic games, now that our NES systems and games have been lost, broken, or only occasional decide to work. But hey, that’s what roms are for.
I actually have two NES systems now (both the original, not the SNES-like re-release) and the same box of games I’ve had since 1992 (my last full-blown active year of NES playing). Of course, these days some of those games won’t save, the NES rarely actually wants to power up, and even if the stars are aligned just right enough for the NES to turn on, it’s a whole other matter to get the games to actually load. Yet, I still have them. Why? Because it was a strong part of my childhood and it’s hard letting go. But maybe once I’m able to get a Wii, I can better emotionally cope with throwing out the old hardware (as my fiancée would love for me to do).
Now I wasn’t the richest kid on the block, so I didn’t have the best variety of NES games. Come to think of, I think there were kids whose family had even less money than mine yet they still had more games than I did! A NES game was a special treat for me and my sister. One of those square, gray cartridges (or black, if you bought a Tengen) usually only found it’s way into my home at Christmas, MAYBE on my birthday, and there was the extremely rare occasion where we might catch my parents in a good enough mood to buy us a game “just because”. But darn it if I didn’t play the heck out of the few games I did have, unlike the games of today. Sure, there’s some great stuff out there on your Playstations, Xboxes, etc, but there aren’t any games that I go back to after beating and just keep playing over and over again. But maybe games aren’t really built that way anymore, there are so many “serious” and complicated games out there with their storylines and all that, that you can’t just pop a game in and jump around busting bricks with your head and throw fireballs at grumpy looking mushrooms without little or no explanation.
Well, enough intro-ing. Depending on who you knew that also had an NES and how spoiled you were as a child, your mileage may vary here as far as the term “classic” goes, but here are just a few of what I consider to be some Nintendo classics… because I grew up playing them and I’m wearing rose-colored glasses today:
Arch Rivals (Midway, 1990)
A faithful arcade port, which is actually superior to the quarter-guzzling version thanks to the fact that you can play a full game without having to pay a quarter to play a quarter. It’s strange that I love this game so much because I don’t care for basketball at all. But then again, this isn’t really basketball. It’s a BASKETBRAWL, just like it’s says on the box. Running around with your fist cocked back, bouncing well-implanted cheerleaders, slippin’ on soda & popcorn, and pullin’ your opponents’ shorts down… what’s not to love about this game? Favorite player: Who else, but the appropriately named Mohawk who was described as “tough and mean”. The game was collected for Midway Arcade Treasures 2 for the PS2. I have that one too.
Baseball Stars (SNK, 1989)
Oh man! This easily ranks as one of my favorite games for ANY system. I spent hours, upon hours, upon hours playing this game. I think this game’s greatest feature was that you could create your own team and players. That was a great time waster in itself as I made numerous teams featuring professional wrestlers and superheroes. Hulk Hogan & Superman playing baseball on the same team? UNBEATABLE. Actually, depending on how much cash you had to blow, you could end up creating some pretty sucky teams, but if I didn’t have the Hulkster and the Man of Steel on my team in terms of abilities, at least they were there in name. Of course, the greatest team was the American Dreams which was full of baseball legends such as the Babe, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, and Jackie Robinson. The Ghastly Monsters was a pretty sucky team, but again, it was just cool to see Frankenstein, Dracula, Jason, and Freddy playing America’s Favorite Pastime. I almost always chose the Dreams, just to make it easier on myself and the teams I had the most fierce rivalries with (in my mind) were the Ninja BlackSox and (don’t laugh) the Lovely Ladies. Hey, those chicks in pink were tough!
Target: Renegade (Taito, 1988)
Okay, this may not be a classic by any stretch of my imagination, but it’s a game I have fond memories of nonetheless, as I was THERE when my then best friend picked up for $15 or so. It’s one of those ‘so bad it’s good’ things. This game was an obvious Final Fight/Double Dragon rip-off, and in the fine tradition of NES games, the box art totally misrepresents the actual game. The cover is of a man who obviously has some martial arts background and isn’t too far from what you might see on a cover of some 80s martial arts action b-movie VHS cover. Tragically, the cool factor of being an Asian martial artist is wiped away when you turn the game on and you’re just a white guy martial artist who is a reject from the Double Dragon series. =( Too cheapen this game even more, it was riding on the coattails of the then popular Renegade arcade game and by an ownership of rights technicality, it was passed off as a sequel. Sequels are never as good as the original…
Demon Sword (Taito, 1989)
Ah yes. Good ol’ Demon Sword. This was a bargain basement game ala Target: Renegade. In fact, I think most Taito games were of middle-of-the-line quality. Even then, just as today, there were console games that just weren’t considered good enough to warrant the going rate for most new games, so the companies would dump their B-grade games out on the market for $10-20 cheaper than your Legend of Zelda or Super Mario Bros. 3. And again, the box art does NOT represent the game AT ALL. The cover was a very Conan-esque looking picture of an oiled, muscled warrior who may or may not be Lex Luger (I believe print ads may have even featured Fabio the Barbarian himself), but upon popping the game in, you’re nothing more than a poorly rendered samurai who can jump really, really high. Even by NES standards this game was kinda ugly as I could never make out exactly what the villains were supposed to be/look like. One looked like a crazy old man and another looked like Rayden from Mortal Kombat. I’m pretty sure this game was originally from Japan, due to the fact that it was marketed to appeal to the then-popular sword & sandal crowd in the US, while actually featuring a samurai in some sort of demonized feudal Japan. The game was actually okay to play, I love playing a game where a guy can jump around so high and quick. The fact that you could swing your sword while descending from one side of the screen to another was great. I always loved knocking guys down in the middle of the air. Things got pretty tough in this game though, so I had to resort to the most wonderful invention of all time, the Game Genie. Yes, invincibility saves the day. Anyway, as you conqure each boss and level, your sword grows bigger (insert a phallic joke of your choice here) and ends up just about as big as you are and looking pretty darn cool.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game (Konami, 1990)
First off, 1989’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the greatest arcade games of all time. Many quarters were blown and much time waiting in line was spent to play this game at Showbiz Pizza (back when it was AWESOME). Second, 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game is one of the greatest NES games of all time. There was a previous “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” game on the NES, thus the arcade port got a roman numeral and subtitle tacked on. This is one of those games I was talking about earlier where I would play it, beat it, and play it some more. Seriously one of the most fun games for NES and it’s even better playing with a friend. All the turtles are up for grabs here to play as, and even though Raph has always been my favorite, I usually picked Donatello just for the sake of the range of his bo staff. Yeah, range of weapons didn’t really come into play in this game, but I always figured that using a character who wielded a 4 foot long stick was safer than a character that used a sai. At the time, I was also amazed at how close the NES version came to looking like the arcade game and the cartoon.
Contra (Konami, 1988)
Hey, is that Dutch and Rambo taking on an Alien?! Nope. It’s just Mad Dog and Scorpion battling the evil alien Red Falcon! Is it really any wonder that the NES was the phenomenon it was when it had games like this? I feel like a broken record, but again, this is one of the greatest games ever. But I think at this point, it’s practically a cliché to say that about Contra. This game was impossible to beat with only 3 lives, so it’s a great thing I had friends who had the 30 lives code memorized and were quick enough to type it in because you needed those 27 extra lives to get the job done. About 6 or 7 years ago, I had a NES revival, where I was constantly immersing myself in those classic games and Contra was well at the top of the list of what I played. I actually didn’t own this game until probably ’99 or so, buying it used at a game store. For whatever reason, as much as I loved it, I just never owned it during the glory days of the NES, but I have it now and that’s all that matters. Definitely a seminal two-player game, and the sequel Super C (which I also didn’t own or even play until my NES comeback) is almost as good. The European release of this game was titled Probotector, which may or may not also be a porno, and all human villains were changed to robots. Violence against humans = bad. Violence against robots = good.
BONUS PICTURE !!
Punch-Out!! (Nintendo, 1987)
There are two different versions of this NES game. First, you have the original, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, but then when Mike went crazy (for the first time), Nintendo, for some reason, decided they didn’t want one of their more popular games associated with a wife beater. I’ve also read that’s just a nasty rumor and it was really just a contract disupte that took the Iron One out of the game. But I prefer the first theory because I like to think that Nintendo wouldn’t ruin my childhood by purposefully associating with a known wife-beater. So anyway, we got the 1990 ‘NES Classics’ version simply titled Punch-Out!! (which was also the title of the original Tyson-less arcade version). I was aware there was a Punch Out arcade game, but I just assumed it always belonged to Mike Tyson. So when the reissue said “The Original”, I figured they were just trying to compensate for their lack of star power. But it really WAS the original arcade version. Both NES versions share the same characters (besides swapping out Tyson for Mr. Dream at the end), yet the arcade version had a shorter list of fighters with a few different boxers as well. It’s a shame some of the arcade fighters didn’t make it home. I would’ve loved to have gone three rounds with Pizza Pasta.
Oh how I love this game. I fell in love with it while playing the Tyson version at a friend’s house and I remember purchasing the Tyson-free version from K-Mart, and I played it countless times all throughout the 90’s. I could still sit down today and have a heckuva time playing this game. Easily one of the best re-playabilities of any game. And the great thing about it was that there’s a bit of a learning curve to it. You have to learn and study your opponent, after that of course it’s easy to beat any of the opponents. This wasn’t a game where I just breezed through it. First I had trouble with the Russian, then Honda, then Soda Pop, etc. I had to train, say my prayers, and shoot my steroids to get to the top of the WVBA!
I’ll never forget beating Soda Popinski for the first time: I think I had gotten in trouble for something and I remember being so mad about it. So I went downstairs to the computer room, and popped in Punch-Out!! althewhile having determination in my eyes and a fire in my belly. You see, ol’ Soda had been giving me trouble for quite sometime, constantly laughing at me while drinking his pop. But that day… I was not going down! Soda Pop was beaten to a fizzy pulp that day; he faced the full wrath of a Little Mac attack. Now it is I who does the laughing and the soda drinking. After conquering the game on my own terms and abilities, I then enlisted the aid of the Game Genie just for fun. Infinite super punches & hearts rule! As mentioned above, with Mike Tyson out of the picture, Nintendo brought in a new character dubbed Mr. Dream as the final boss. Same body, same boxing style, but a different face and he was kinda white yet kinda yellowish. I digged Mr. Dream though, after you whipped his butt he at least gave you props and he wasn’t overly arrogant and obnoxious with his comments during the rounds. He respected Little Mac, and that’s what it’s all about when you’re punching someone in the face… Respect. I think I’ve talked too much about Punch-Out!! for today.
California Games (Epyx, 1987)
Now I was never a big sports fan, and I’m still not. But as a NES player, you couldn’t help but play this game. Not because you particularly liked it, but because SOMEONE always owned it and wanted to play it. I was never very good at it. I did horrible in the skating and surfing events. I could never figure out surfing and the shark was kinda freaky. Frisbee was kind of fun though, but I’d say the footbag event was my favorite. And that’s because it was the only game I was fairly competent in. Besides, you get to practice animal cruelty by timing your footbag just right to smack a seagull.
Pinball (Nintendo, 1984)
YES! PINBALL !!! How many hours did my friend Jamie and I play this game? It was all about getting the high score, knocking those penguins down a peg or two, and saving the original love in Mario’s life, Princess Pauline. Yes, friends, Mario was here. If you were lucky enough to get to the rescuing stage, you ran around with a ladder over your head waiting to catch the ORIGINAL princess. If this game came out for the Wii today, it’d be called Mario Pinball and would feature Mario and every other familiar Super Mario franchise character. That’s not me trying to be funny, that’s just a fact.