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The Nintendo Entertainment System 30th Anniversary
The Console that Resurrected the Video Game Industry
When I was a kid in the 80s all I knew of video games were arcades and the Atari 2600 and how much I wish my games on the Atari looked like the arcades, especially Pac-Man. Then the Crash happened and I honestly thought I’d never be interested in video games again. Then I saw a commercial in 1985 of this new Nintendo system and marveled at the quality of the graphics, I mean MY GOD! People actually look like people, not some deformed blocks. Two years after the NES was released and I was insanely jealous of my friends who had them, my dad finally gave in to my incessant whining and bought me one for myself. Super Mario Bros. then took over my life, until of course, I collected other games. Towards the end of its run, my NES suffered the same way all the others suffered due to its flawed front loading system for cartridges. Every day was a trial to get the thing to work; I along with several dedicated friends had our technique down and everything. And when we did get it to work-that was a good day. Looking back, I’m pretty sure our little bits of spittle from blowing the dust out of cartridges only made things worse.
Instead of writing a long drawn out article on the NES detailing the specs and history that one can easily find elsewhere, I decided this dedication would be entirely personal anecdote. This is a top 10 list but it may not include all of the conventional, generally accepted commercially and critically acclaimed titles that usually hold places on lists like these. This is not to say that commercially and critically acclaimed titles will not be mentioned here, on the contrary I will include those stellar games if they happen to be one of my personal favorites. Thus you will notice some glaring omissions and a general lack of sports and racing games. With that being said, let’s move onto the nostalgia.
WARNING: 30 YEAR OLD SPOILERS AHEAD!!
10. Double Dragon
The grandfather of side scrolling beat ‘em ups. Double Dragon was one of those early games that exposed my impressionable young mind to violent imagery, even though nobody actually bled and they just blinked out of existence. But there was nothing like grabbing a bat and whacking Williams right in the face! Plus it had a versus mode that made me wish for fighting games, and then in the future it happened!
9. Super Mario Bros. 2
Actually the “real” Super Mario Bros. 2 is what is known to us as Super Mario Bros. Lost Levels. It was originally deemed to difficult for American audiences. So Nintendo took a game called Doki Doki Panic and plastered its mascots all over it. It was different but I liked it. Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach each had their own strengths and weaknesses and I liked having to choose which character was best for each level. It was usually Mario or Toad. SMB2 is the reason why Birdo, Shyguys, and Bob-ombs appear in subsequent Mario titles.
8. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
A polarizing title due to its departure from the original formula, it is unique among the Zeldas as being the only side-scroller. Zelda II is more action oriented and has some of the more traditional RPG elements like experience points, spells, and multiple villages to talk to people. It also had action game mainstays like limited lives. Quick reflexes were more important than puzzle solving in order to beat each of the guardians in the six palaces. Link’s shadow as the final boss was awesome. I loved the music, too.
The act of blasting waves of aliens is even more fun with a friend. Contra was pure, visceral run ‘n’ gun action. And with co-op I learned the value of working together as a team to share resources and provide covering fire…screw that, as soon as I saw the coveted Spread Gun power up I went for it and left my hapless partner behind. Good thing the Konami code that now adorns T-shirts gave us plenty of lives with which to screw each other over. But it is truly skilled who can defeat the aliens with just three lives.
6. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
Who knew a seventeen year old, 107 pound kid could beat 200-300 pound brawlers? That’s the pretense of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!!-where a kid named Little Mac could just defy all laws of physics. It took a lot of practice to take down final boss Mike Tyson. His first round attacks consisted of one-hit-and-you’re-down uppercuts but beating him boiled down to quick reflexes and Zen-like concentration (not blinking). Adding to the challenge was the bright hue of the ring. It made my eyes water.
Simon Belmont may have the jumping ability of a brick, but it was just so cool to literally whip such horror mainstays like ghosts, skeletons, mummies, and even Frankenstein’s Monster-all along the way to face the vampire lord Dracula. Castlevania is controller-bustingly hard (partially because of the jumping brick thing) but it was worth it to try to get to the end. And oh, that music! "Vampire Killer" might as well be Beethoven's Fifth!
4. Super Mario Bros.
The whimsical visuals and that catchy tune drew me in, but it was one gameplay mechanic that was-in a word-revolutionary. As I made my way forward through World 1-1 for the very first time, I jumped at one point and thought it was mistimed. I was about to land on a Goomba and I prepared myself to lose a life, but instead the Goomba was stomped! What the? I tried the trick on a Koopa Troopa and its shell was kicked away! What was going on? Little did I know what a deep, brand new adventure that I was about to embark on would be hardwired into my brain 30 years later. I can still remember where a bunch of the invisible bricks are. I want to play this now!
Back in the late 80s if you didn’t work for the Department of Defense you had no access to the Internet. So we didn’t have the convenience of looking up game reviews. We had to rely on box art, screenshots on the back of the box, and word of mouth. It’s a good thing I took that risk on Metroid. The lonely, moody atmosphere of the alien world of Zebes was combined with the hunt for power ups that gave you abilities to reach previously inaccessible areas, enticing you to further exploration. Not to mention the non-linearity and, in my dad’s words, “depressing music” propelled it to greater heights. Of course it was revealed that Samus was actually a woman, which of course paved the way for more female video game protagonists who are not at all sexualized.
2. The Legend of Zelda
The setup was simple: a young elfin boy named Link, armed with a sword must explore the land of Hyrule, find the pieces of the Triforce of Wisdom, and rescue Princess Zelda. I played so much of Zelda that I was able to guide a friend over the phone and know what part he was at by his description. I even went so far as to say something along the lines of: “Place a bomb on the third square from the left, it should be a secret door,” and I would be right. The adventure presented a whole land to explore, magical items to find, puzzles to solve, and nine distinct dungeons to conquer; then just when you thought it was finished you were rewarded with a new, more challenging Second Quest. And the cartridge was laminated beautiful fake gold! Well, so was Zelda II.
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
No video game is perfect, but Super Mario Bros. 3 may be the exception. It is like looking fondly back on your childhood and remembering only happy times. It took the Mushroom Kingdom of the original and expanded into eight distinct WORLDS to explore. Then there were the new power ups: like the Racoon Suit that gave the gift of flight and the powerful, armored Hammer Brother Suit. We were introduced to Bowser’s kids and their heavily armed Airships. And in World 8, Bowser unleashes his army, navy, AND air force to defend his castle. I remember spending an entire summer vacation on this game. Sure I missed out on sunshine, fresh air, and healthy exercise but this was Super Mario Bros. 3 after all. The outside world will always be there. This is the best of the main Mario titles; it was further enhanced with 16-bit graphics on Super Mario All Stars for the Super Nintendo. Super Mario Bros. 3 is just the best platformer ever.