Top 10 NES Games: Part 2

After enduring mounds of scorn from my brother, Ethan, for not being “timely enough for his feminine tastes” in terms of posting the second half of this list of greatness, I figured I’d buckle down and polish this subject off.

As said previously, the Nintendo in some ways, wasn’t as huge of a factor in my video game life as those that lived everyday with its existence. It was a system I either spent a lot of the time hearing about from other people or watching other people play. So that’s why games like “Final Fantasy” or “Metroid” you will not find on this list. Those games may be great, but they never hit me like a ton of bricks. Got no personal game playing connection. No satisfaction of those experiences.

But that being said, there were a good deal of games that I either played back then or still play now, and it’s in honor of those games that I continue with the TOP 5 NES GAMES!

(Again so we are all aware of the rules…let’s list them again)

1) It had to be a game I personally did play (and preferably beat at some point)

2) It had to be a game that I would still play today (adding a real timeless quality)

3) The list would contain 10 games instead of only 5 like other lists had (I figure giving the NES a couple extra entries is only fair given the sheer volume)


5) Super Mario Brothers 2

For me, the Super Mario Brothers franchise officially started with this game. That’s extremely sad because it wasn’t even actually a Super Mario Brothers game originally. Like Ms. Pac Man, this game was actually a hack/repurposing of a previous game released in Japan for the Family computer disk system called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic.

Originally, the real second Super Mario game was supposed to be the much harder version of SMB 1 which eventually saw release in the US when it packaged together with the rest of the NES titles with new 16 bit graphics in essential SNES game “Super Mario All Stars”. By that time, it was no longer called SMB 2 but instead  “Lost Levels”, any most fans agreed Nintendo made the right choice in not shipping this to the US stores as the sequel to their highest grossing title of all time, but instead taking the time to change Doki Doki Panic into a unique game that greatly expanded on the notion of what you could do with a Mario game.

In fact, it’s all those additional options, the variety of gameplay and enemies, that makes up for everything that I considered wrong with SMB 1 right with SMB 2. That’s why I say it was the game that really got me hooked with Mario more than the first.

As I mentioned, I was an “Alex Kidd in Miracle World” kid growing so you can see my issues with SMB 1 since it’s more or less the same side scrolling stage over and over again. Not only that but they are difficult side scrolling stages with the few options for defeating them other than muscle memory, timing and a good deal of luck. Alex Kidd was more of an adventure, with a variety of different kinds of environments to play through, and gave you different tools to complete you job, adding to the replay value at every step.

SMB2 is very similar in that regard. A colorful cast of characters with Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach each with their own strengths and weaknesses as characters, which helped break up the monotony from stage to stage. Plus there were great deal of variety in monsters and enemies to fight, not just the same Koopa Troopers or Goombas over and over again. In fact, this game even gave you different bosses to battle instead of Bowser at the end of each castle. But again most importantly, it’s not the same damn stage over and over again. There are stages in which you have to dig straight down through the sand, or fly on magic carpets, all which made this game more of an adventure than just another side scroller.

In closing I do rank it higher than SMB 3 simply because it’s more forgiving in terms of difficulty which adds to replay value, even though I will admit, SMB 3 clobbers this game in terms of expanding even further on the game-playing options and differences in environments to help add to the sense of exploration and fun.

 

Final Thoughts: Toad was my personal favorite character to be in this game. That pint sized powerhouse and his lightning quick lift/throw power saved my bacon more than once.


4) Contra

What else has to be said about this game. It is THE BEST CO OP GAME OF ALL TIME.

Gears of War? Halo? Mass Effect? Those games might have flashy graphics and more robust stories, but will they ever invoke the same feeling of camaraderie as you would get from laying waste to the alien hordes in this epic grandfather of all Run ‘N Guns.

Some games are just so simple, so pure, so ingrained in our collective gaming subconscious that they transcend individual lists. To not put this game on the list, and to rate it in the top 5 would have be a crime against good taste.

And unlike some of the games on this list, this one is designed to be enjoyed with the company of a friend. The single player is okay for sure, but it really shines when you partner up especially with an old friend that understands your body language and non verbal cues. As the game definitely demands precision and timing to defeat it, so having a fellow player that moves with your vs. against you is key to success. Someone that doesn’t lollygag on the waterfall stage when the boulders start falling, someone that understands the split second movements needed to navigate the flamejets in the alien factory/base, and someone that shares the power ups appropriately to maximize effectiveness. In short if it sounds like finding the perfect partner for Contra is almost romantic like shipping a OTP (one true pairing), you aren’t that far off. In order to succeed in this big dance, you need someone that’s not going to be stepping on your toes!

So grab a buddy, a couple juice boxes or brews depending on age bracket, enter the all sacred and most holy code, and spread blast your way through the jungle and beyond. Even after some 30 years, this game never gets old.

Final Thoughts: Chant the Mantra with me, Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Select Start. Should fill you with a warm feeling of invincibility.


3) Castlevania 3- Dracula’s Curse

 

I really am a big fan of the Castlevania series. Like a lot of gamers have that one franchise they will always gravitate to, like Mega Man, or Final Fantasy, or Metroid. For me, it’s always the continuing saga of the Belmont clan and their never-ending holy war against the forces of Dracula and the blood sucking horrors at his beck and call.  So, I naturally felt that any list I would create would have to contain at least one.

The only problem is for the NES entry I had a real corker of a time just picking one. On one hand, Castlevania 1 is still one of my favorite “go to” games when I just want to kill some time. It was the first to capture my imagination and I have fond memories of playing it for the first time on an arcade cabinet at a local roller skating rink back when I was in the 4th grade. But if I was going to be honest,  Castlevania 3 is by far in my opinion the best of  not only the NES games, but quite possibly all of the Castlevania games everywhere (Symphony of the Night maybe comes in a close second)

As a side note, many of you are probably wondering why I didn’t even consider Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. Long story short on that, I just never liked that black sheep of the Belmont adventures. Although I praise the originality, there was just something a little bit off about the entire game, like it was unfinished or the concept needed to be tweaked just a bit more to really go do as one of the best ever…but I digress.

From first seeing the clock tower stage, to the pirate Grant DaNasty, to Alucard & Sypha, this game never stops urging you to keep playing, keep unlocking different things, and ultimately, to play the game over and over again. That’s really the thing that sets this game apart from the first one and makes it the best overall: The replayablity.

One thing I love in all of my favorite games is the ability to beat a game, put it down for a bit, pick it back up,  and get something new out of it. Castlevania 3 is a game that gives that to you in spades. In fact, I remember when we first got this game, my older brother Dave and I would have active debates about which supporting character was the best and challenge each other to beat the game with someone other than our favorite. When you have that kind of choice and can go so many multiple ways with a simple 8bit cartridge, you have a sure fire hit on your hands.

So much so, that even years later, I still play this game a ton. Not only that though, but I’m also a huge fan of the Castlevania anime show on Netflix which is fully based on this particular chapter of the Belmont Saga. If you haven’t checked that out yet, I highly recommend that you do.

Final Thoughts: Trevor Belmont hearts Sypha Belnades’ ass. That’s why he walks behind her in the stage selection screens.

2) The Legend of Zelda

Did you really think that this game wouldn’t make an appear on an all time greatest NES game list? Seriously, the OG of all adventure RPG games, the game that launched a thousand Links? Hell, the late, great Robin Williams named his own daughter, Zelda, because of this very game and undying love for it.

Well, what if I was to tell you that when I first created an iteration of this list way back when I used to write for Tumblr, I did not have any Legend of Zelda games on it?

I know, right! Blasphemy! Tar and Feather that Palooka and feed him to the angry Moblins!

But it’s true. This list used to be only 8 games long instead of 10, and for whatever reason I didn’t include the original Hyrulian saga on there. Maybe it was because I was one of the minority that actually enjoyed Zelda 2: Adventures of Link more because its side-scrolling nature. Yet, that game is unforgivably hard in terms of its game play, so often times I would find myself yelling at the TV screen more than enjoying the only “official” sequel to the original NES classic, so it didn’t make the list.

But the more I thought about it, it wasn’t really because of my frustrations with Zelda 2 that kept me from putting Zelda 1 on the list. No. No. The simple reason was the fact that I had lost touch with what an delightfully fun and exciting game this really is. It had been years since I replayed it and I simply didn’t realize what I was really missing.

Flash forward though several years, and my young son had turned 5, and was asking if there was a game he could play similar to the some of the video games I was playing aka those “where you run around and hunt for monsters”. It was at that moment that I remembered the original Legend of Zelda, and how that game would be perfect to introduce him to the wider world of gaming. I was so totally right, as he took to it immediately, searching the wilds, fighting monsters, exploring dungeons, and the best part was he was talking about with me every time he found a new secret or had to fight a dragon. And so we ended up playing it together, and experiencing this game anew through the eyes of child, it awakened something deep within me. A sense that Nintendo is the system of the “all ages”. That it’s games are made to be enjoyed between parents and their children and even one that’s more than 30 years old can still have the same impact on a child’s imagination years later.

These games are timeliness, like the great Disney cartoon movies. They are made to be shared over and over again from generation to generation. And although the same could be said about a lot of the other games on this list, I don’t think any of them sum that up better than Legend of Zelda. So, if you have young kids, if you are a gamer, and want them to experience something pure and honest, play a copy of Zelda with them. Don’t jump to the more complicated versions that came later like Ocarina of Time, even if they look more flashy. Start the kids off with the basics and build their video game skills right. Work up to those other games as they naturally progress and you’ll experience something truly special. An Awakening of sorts in both your child and ultimately yourself.

Final Thoughts: There is a 16bit remake version of this game floating around on the internet called “BS The Legend of Zelda”. I believe it was originally released only in Japan as a part of some sort of TV subscription game service called Satellaview. In any case, the game was like a Super Mario All Stars version of Zelda 1. It’s a shame this was never released on the console. I would have slurped it up!


1) Rygar

Epic. Uncanny. Otherworldly. The most Bad Ass Weapon on the face of the planet in the insanely unquie, Diskarmor, which is in essence the most deadly Yo-Yo on the face of the universe.  These are just some things I could say about my all time favorite NES game, Tecmo’s 1987 arcade port of Rygar: The Legendary Warrior.

Rygar is an often times forgotten gem on the Nintendo: A “Metroidvania” type game that is open ended in terms of the players ability to explore and access to some of parts of the worlds initially. However, it soon becomes apparent that in order to defeat the game, you’ll have to search and beat a series of mini bosses which possess  items such as the grappling hook, crossbow, and wind pulley, which allows the player to open up new areas and cross previously impassable obstacles. Throw in an impressive RPG style leveling up system in which you make your character more powerful through earning and spending experience tokens, and this game is really an all time classic of the Adventure RPG genre in the 8 bit era.

Plus those monsters, wow, what a crazy collection of beasts brought to life through the power of pixels. I mean, c’mon, there’s a two headed dragon man called Deathpigor! If that’s not something that sounds like a fever dream after too many late night burritos, I don’t know what does.

I feel like most players were originally turned off by this game when it was on the NES, because despite the level of complexity, this game features neither a game save system or even a password or continue system, meaning you would have play for hours and hours to try and beat the game in a single sitting or leave or NES on and hope your parents didn’t notice (which with my Dad complaining about the electric bill was an impossiblity). Still, thanks to modern emulation programs (which I’m not officially promoting, mind you), Rygar is redeemed in this regard with the “save state” function,  allows for normal pee and food breaks, thus allowing players to have a real chance of beating this wonderful game in it’s entirety.  Yep, even years later, it was the only game of this ilk that I actively said:

“Yes, I will play you again, Rygar. I will fight through the forests of fear to claim the crossbow. I will reach that castle in the sky, I will throw my diskarmor proudly in the face of evil, and unlike Link, I fight for not a beautiful princess, but for bald headed monks and the wisdom they protect. For the Realm of Argool!”

PS: I even played the dumb ass PS2 “update” because I hearted the original game so much. I’m not sure why they made the remake have such a strong Roman mythological bent to it as I definitely pictured the original game taking place on some  barbaric alien world, similar to Eternia from He-man, not in some place in human antiquity. Whatever, the game wasn’t anywhere near as cool as the original, so I’ll just chalk that up to another of the missteps that sunk the remake as nothing more than some sort of 3D Castlevania clone.

Final Thoughts: This is one of the few games where the console port is infinitely better than the arcade game. The Arcade game which I included a picture of below, is more or less just a high points scorer, sort of a run and gun in which you try to defeat as many enemies you  can on a board, before moving to the next.
 
 
There’s no story, no exploration, and I guess I can understand that from a business perspective, as you want players to just rack up a score, or die trying, before loading the next quarter.
 
 
Still Tecmo made arcade games that had a sense of story, such as their Ninja Gaiden (Shadow Warriors) game, which was also ported to the NES with a greatly increased focus on the narrative. Long story short, the Arcade version of Rygar is beautiful to look at, but with little to no substance, and that’s a real shame as I feel like that game too could have been something more.

So that’s the list. Comments?

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