The Nintendo Entertainment System--or NES as it's commonly referred--is one of the most legendary home gaming consoles ever to be launched. Not the most successful selling console of all time (that would be Sony's PlayStation 2), but definitely one of the de-facto, most talked about systems to come up in conversation whenever important milestones in gaming history are discussed. Although Atari and the Commodore 64 came out before it, and the Playstation 1 after, no one can deny that the NES is where the huge multi-billion dollar gaming industry of today really secured its footing in the hearts of countless eager young kids (and not just a few adults) back in the mid 80s.
I was first introduced to the NES around 2 weeks after it hit store shelves in the US back in October of 1985. A friend of my mom's had purchased the "deluxe" version of the set, which came with two games, a light gun "Zapper," a pint-sized robot named R.O.B., and a few other shiny accoutrements. At the precocious young age of 9 years old, I had never seen anything like it! But it was my mother who got hooked on the system, and would find excuses to visit her friend, kids in tow, just to end up literally spending 5 hours or more straight playing Duck Hunt over and over and over again. Sometimes we would fire up the robot and play Gyromite as well. But regardless, my mom was the true inspiration for my gaming interests. How many kids can make that claim?
When my mother passed away later that year, our world turned upside down and we had little reason to want to game again. But as 1986 came to a close I started reliving memories of late night gaming sessions with mom, when us kids would eventually tire and trundle off to bed leaving her behind to continue zapping away at those mischievous mallards or confounding clay pigeons until the wee hours of predawn. In short, I missed those times! And my little brother did as well. So that Christmas we asked our grandmother for, and received, a Nintendo Deluxe System all for our very own.
And from that moment on we were HOOKED!
My brother and I would go on to devour HUNDREDS of NES titles over the years. Some our grandmother, uncle, and auntie bought for us. Others we rented from the video rental store down the block, or swapped with our school buddies like unofficial tender between kids. I can proudly boast to having played the greater majority of Nintendo's premiere titles through these methods, as well as a goodly portion of their second- and third-tiered offerings as well. And, hey, every now and then a few stinkers fell into our laps which we didn't turn away, either. It was all good for a couple of well-intentioned, but supremely BORED, boys with nothing better to keep us occupied. We had tons of fun with many of those premiere NES titles, in fact.
But that's not what this article is about. This is not about the best NES games in history. Nor is it about the worst. No, I'm here to talk about the middle games in the awesome library of NES titles--those gems which were actually quite fun in their own special way, but which few modern gamers today seem to remember. These are the unsung heroes of my childhood. None of them as spectacularly successful as a Super Mario Bros. 3, perhaps, yet also not as dismally unfun as that infamous Back to the Future game, these titles listed below were special to me in their own way. They might not have resonated well with other gamers of the time, might not even be recognized by younger enthusiasts born after the NES' heydey today . . . but they sure meant something to me!
And so, without further fanfare, here is the list from least to best of my favorite:
TOP 10 FORGOTTEN NES GAMES OF YESTERYEAR!!!
10. Elevator Action.
This might seem an odd title to place as one of my childhood "favorites," but as I said above Elevator Action's subpar visuals and quirky mechanics are somehow overcome by the fantastic music and whimsical "Spy vs Spy" feel that makes this a game you simply can't put down. Check out the video below to understand what I'm getting at. And for you gaming enthusiasts out there, this could very well be a blast from your very own past.
most "godawful" games. I don't know, I think that's a bit harsh myself. I remember loving this title first and foremost because it had cinematic cutscenes like my beloved Ninja Gaiden. Cutscenes that tell a game's story are pretty ubiquitous in contemporary gaming today, but back in the late 80s and early 90s they were practically unheard of. But even back in my precocious pre-teen years I could always appreciate a good story, and so these types of games really appealed to me.
Did Asytanax have a good story? That's up for debate. See, you play as the eponymous hero, Astyanax -- a modern day 14 year old boy who gets sucked into a fantasy world and caught up in some evil wizard's plot to take over the kingdom of Remlia. You know, just like any typical day in the life of a high school freshman. It sounds like something that should have been right down my alley, right? Well, with the exception that the dialogue scenes are pretty stilted and insipid -- IT WAS! You'll see for yourself when checking out the video below.
what an ending it was! I think I had a little crush on Cutie the Faerie. :) I also enjoyed the fact that you could mix in spells with your axe- and sword-swinging carnage in this game, similar to that winning formula used in Golden Axe on the Sega Genesis. And to top it off, the soundtrack is one of the more memorable ones that still remains with me even after all these years.
To this day, though, I just wish someone would explain to me why anyone would name their kid after such an inauspicious Illiad reference (and especially this particular one)? It was definitely one of the harder to pronounce NES titles back in those days, an issue that no doubt only added to the ridicule from the game's many detractors.
Known affectionately by us as "that game with the fat man who shoots fireballs out of his armpits," Karnov is supposed to be a Russian strongman who spits fire and is set loose on a rampage. At least, that's what I vaguely recall finding out years later. I still don't know what happened to make him so angry, or why exactly he's being attacked by so many weird creatures like dinosaurs, hopping fish, skeletons, gargoyles, and even a dragon if memory serves correctly.
Sure, none of this crazy stuff makes a lick of sense in this game, but the pacing was slick and fast, the enemies colorful and inventive, and the eccentric main character just zany enough in design and execution to make him memorable. While Karnov does seem like a game that was dreamed up by some pretty coked-out Japanese programming nerds in Tokyo, you gotta admit it has an odd old-school, 8-bit charm. Just check out the gameplay clip below and judge for yourself.
7. Rescue: The Embassy Mission.
The gist of the story is simple to the point of being a mere backdrop to the gameplay. Terrorists have taken over an embassy and are now holding high-ranking hostages. An elite Special Forces team is sent in to rescue those hostages, split into two squads of three men each.
Sniper Squad: comprised of agents "Mike," "Steve," and "Jumbo;" and
Assault Squad: made up of operatives "Ron," "Dick," and "Kemco."
The game itself is divided into three sections.
The first section consists of maneuvering your Sniper Squad by foot to a setup point directly across the street from the embassy. The gamer must successfully negotiate each member of his 3-man team past enemy search lights and take up point along different sides of the building. The objective is to get a line of sight on as many terrorists as possible milling about inside the fortified complex. As long as at least one sniper makes it to his position without being detected, the gamer can progress to the next stage.
After you snipe and kill as many enemies as possible, the third and final section can commence: the "rescue" portion of the title. At this point a helicopter drops behind the enemy's defenses and quickly dispatches "Ron," "Dick," and "Kemco" atop the embassy building. The gamer selects which operative he wants to attempt a rescue first, then carefully drops the man over the side of the building by rope. The operative must find a window and bust through the glass to gain entrance. Needless to say this sets the enemies off and, depending on how well your snipers did in the previous portion, can determine whether your operative has an easy clean up or not. The best strategy was to simply start from the top of the 3-story complex and methodically work your way down, canvassing each floor and never departing until every terrorist baddie had been gunned down.
This was an intense game despite its very dated look and three-toned color palette. Best of all, the music was off-the-hook SEXY for its time! To this day, if for some reason I find myself slinking through my house at night with the lights off, I always end up humming the main tune under my breath WITHOUT FAIL! Click on the vid below to hear the infectious soundtrack yourself:
6. Wall Street Kid.
But you know what? This ended up being one of my favorite games of all time! And at the same time -- dare I say it? -- I actually *gasped* learned something in the process. Yes, yes, imagine that? See, Wall Street Kid manages to teach you the rudimentary basics about the American stock market, while weaving a fairly far-fetched though amusing background story where the protagonist potentially comes into his family's multi-billion dollar fortune. Provided he learns how to master the stocks & trade game first. And yes, that's BILLIONS with a "B." Jeez, Louise!
You know, I think I need to do a little research to see if a more modern and mature version of this game exists today. Surely the concept is ripe for exploration, even among much older gamers like myself who could stand to learn how to manage a stock portfolio better. If anyone knows of just such a game (on the PC, I'm guessing), please inform me in the comments section below.
In the meantime, check out this guy Jeremy's review of the game to get a better idea of why it rocks. Or not. If you're into the market at all, if anything I'm sure you'll get a good laugh at the simplicity on display here:
BreakThru is one such simplistic looking, yet wildly fun, car combat game. There's not really much to say, as I don't recall there ever being much of a setup in terms of story. All I remember is that you have to maneuver some kind of armored weaponized dune buggy past various obstacles and enemy soldiers. Or rather, I should say over them, seeing as how what made this game so much thrilling fun back in 1987 was the ability to make your vehicle jump over things. Yeah, it's that simple folks. That's all it took to make us little boys happy back in the 80s. The soundtrack was nothing to write home about, and the graphics were serviceable even in those early days of the NES. But, really, running down soldiers and jumping over land mines were the highlights of this title. I remember you had to traverse through various terrains divided up by levels. I recall there being a mountain level, a bridge level, and at one point you enter a city which is where things got really tough.
BreakThru's also why I get a kick out of the awesome Queen song of the same name, I guess. If only the game itself had such a terrific thumping beat. Can we say lost opportunity, Data East? I think we can.
Still -- man, so much mileage I got outta such an unassuming little game! It boggles the mind what we made work for us back in a time when home video games were not the multimedia juggernauts they are today.
4. Wrath of the Black Manta.
But I loved this game! It had great music, a cause you could believe in at the center of its plot . . . and some of the goofiest looking bosses I've ever seen in an 8-bit game! And if you know your 8-bit games, you know that's a tall accolade.
What I remember most about this game, besides that incredible soundtrack, is the quirky art style. First of all, Black Manta himself looks like he's wearing purple pajamas. How very intimidating! And whenever you interrogated a person, the close-up of their faces were so hilariously incongruous with real life as to be terrifying. Check out the video below to get a taste of this game's uniqueness yourself. But be forewarned, the writing is particularly atrocious. All in good fun to a 14 year old ninja loving fanatic such as yours truly. Watching this video makes me want to dig out the cartridge again for old time's sake.
3. River City Ransom.
The Legend of the Mystical Ninja, with which it shares more than just a casual resemblance.
But at the time, River City Ransom was the first game I ever played that combined beat-em up gameplay with mild Role Playing Game (RPG) sensibilities. This marriage would be repeated many times after of course (and by the more powerful and popular next-gen home gaming systems just coming down the pipe at this point in time), but this is the game that I recall as starting it all. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I doubt it. It certainly blew my mind away at the time.
I mean, the game had it all--with a zany sense of humor, quirky cartoonish art style, and a kick-ass soundtrack to boot! It was wildly addictive for me and my brother back in the day, and we played this one to death. More so my bro, who particularly took to this game with something approaching religious fervor!
And it would seem that he's not the only one to ever feel this way about River City. The game's gotten a bit of a cult following over the years, despite never reaching the popularity of the upper tier games like the aforementioned Double Dragon or the later Streets of Rage games. Check out the review on Retro Mondays' youtube channel below to get a glimpse of the greatness I speak of:
2. The Adventures of Bayou Billy.
As with every other game on this list, though, the music is ridiculously infectious here. Also, Bayou Billy was a bit revolutionary at the time as being one of the first games to make sparse use of, albeit scratchy, voice recordings. Even to this day I'll sometimes throw the game into my 26 yr old NES console (yes, it still works BABY!) just for the express purpose of watching the title screen fade and hearing the digitize voice shout out: THE ADVENTURES OF BAYOU BILLY! Seriously, that guy is awesome! Albeit way too enthusiastic, perhaps, but that's another story . . .
I've included the youtube video below of some god-like gamer blasting through the first levels of the game as if they were trivial. At last, someone who knows how to play this game like I do! I swear, the amount of complaints I hear from people who say this game is too hard to beat! It's refreshing to see that I wasn't the only neurotic fool back then who took his games serious enough to spend hours upon HOURS learning every enemy pattern and making it work to his advantage. Bravo, dude. Bravo! You make me proud.
1. Rush'N Attack.
I love this game so much that I eventually purchased a copy of the original NES cart for my own collection. Recently it came to my attention that a modern update had been developed last year by a small studio called Vatra Games using the Unreal 3 game engine. Published by Konami and called Rush'n Attack: Ex-Patriot, the game was released on both the Playstation and Xbox Live online networks back in March 2011 to mediocre fanfare and review. I purchased it for myself just last month and absolutely had a blast tearing through this quick little title. Although vastly different from its 80s predecessor in both look and story, enough of the classic features and nods to the original were included as to instantly identify its pedigree to this super fan. Check out the rad trailer for it by clicking here.
Otherwise, click on the video of the NES original below and bask in some nostalgic goodness:
So there you have it! These are the not-so-popular 8-bit Nintendo games which rocked my pre-adolescent world in the late 1980s. Special mention must also go out to the runner-up titles that could not squeeze onto this list--games such as: Kung Fu; Operation Wolf; Hoops; Skate Or Die; and California Games, to name just a few.
Since I would very much like to know that I'm not alone in my singular enjoyment of these unsung classics, please feel free to discuss my selection in the comments below, for better or worse. I'm serious, if you absolutely disagree with any of these titles being on this list, let me know and suggest a game of your own to replace it. No suggestion is a bad one as, trust me, I've played them all and loved each obscure game in its own special way.