It's been a long time coming, but unfortunately, starting on the 18th, the Nintendo Switch's online service will finally require a paid subscription. The best individual membership will run you $19.99 USD for 12 months, which is actually pretty damn cheap when compared to PS+ and XBLG, both of which charge $59.99 for the same length of time. Still, it's a pretty obnoxious and invasive move that I'm sure a lot of people aren't going to be aware of when the time comes to make the switch—especially when Nintendo's online services have always
been free—so the service better offer a lot of cool shit to make it 100% worth your money.https://www.nintendo.com/switch/online-service/
The first benefit listed is online play (duh), which still only applies to a handful of games at the moment: Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, Splatoon 2, Arms, and Mario Tennis Aces—all of which, of course, could already be played online for free in the past. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will be the first big Nintendo game to require a paid subscription from the start if you wanted to play online.
The second benefit is getting access to a library of classic NES games, some of which will be enhanced for online play. There will only be twenty at launch, but of course, they'll be adding more to it. I'll come back to this one later, as it's the benefit I'm the most interested in.
The third benefit is being able to save your game data to the cloud. It's done automatically (so long as you're connected), and since it's tied to your account, you'll be able to access your data on another system if you needed to. That's pretty cool, I guess. It's hard for me to imagine ever needing it, because I'm super careful with my consoles, but I'm sure people who have rambunctious children could benefit majorly from this one.
The fourth benefit is a Smartphone app that will allow for voice chat for the aforementioned online games. Personally, Discord works well enough for me, but people seem really excited about this one for some reason, so I guess it's a good thing.
The fifth benefit are "special offers" that are only available to NSO members, of which only two are listed at the moment: 1.) For $59.99, NSO members can purchase a couple of Joy-Cons modeled after NES controllers—because there's no better way to play NES ROMs. For reference, the normal price for a standard pair of Joy-Cons (at least, the last time I checked) is $79.99. So if these seem expensive, it's actually kind of a deal, even though it could probably be better. 2.) A special outfit for your Splatoon 2 character.
And that's it for now.
Now, about those NES games. I may not be able to review the service itself, because it's not out yet, but I can review all of those NES titles, since I've played all but two of them.
I'm probably the most ardent retro gamer here, so for your benefit, I'm gonna play consumer watchdog and go over and rank all twenty of the launch titles for the new NES library—partly for the fun of it, partly to let you know which ones are worth your time. I love NES games, and I think there's still a lot of them that play just fine in 2018, but I'd be lying if I said they've all aged nicely. I'd like for this to be a hub for all NSO-related news, too, so every time there's a new NES title dropping on the service, I'll be sure to review it here.
This list will start at #20 and go from worst to best, and because I think x/10 is too demanding for these older games, I'll use the x/5 scale instead.
5/5 - Must-play. Historical. Won't be perfect due to the nature of NES games, but you owe it to yourself to try it anyway.
4/5 - Very good. Still holds up, but may not be to everybody's tastes or standards. May require patience to appreciate.
3/5 - Rough. Mixed. Average. So-so. Decent. Good on a good day, bad on a bad day. Not for everyone. Worth trying.
2/5 - Bad, either by design or through poor aging. Rarely worth playing unless you have a vested interest in the IP.
1/5 - Dreadful. Mostly third party shovelware. Probably received a humorous AVGN review at some point. Avoid.
More like Sucker
. This was actually one of the original NES launch titles when it dropped in late 1985—or at least, I think it was, but some sources claim otherwise—and while the NES is credited to saving the American video game industry, it definitely wasn't because of this game.
I know I'm not the biggest sports fan in the world, but trust me when I say that my low placing of this game has little to do with my lack of interest in the genre. It's genuinely just a pretty weak simulation of association football—even for the time, I'd argue.
The biggest problem has to be the overall pacing of the game. I associate soccer with speed, finesse, and wildly precise movements—all of which are remarkably absent in this game, lending to its very sluggish and clunky feel. If you can look past that, the gameplay itself is just fine. The controls are simple, but intuitive—"A" shoots, "B" passes—and your goalie is controllable as soon as he's visible on the screen. Like, simultaneously. It's kinda weird.
Once you score a couple goals, though, the game starts becoming incredibly monotonous. The one song that plays gets pretty old fast, and I always hated how all the players on the scoring team would celebrate by flapping their arms around like idiots. Visually, the solid green textureless astroturf field becomes hard to look at after a while, too. This is a game that epitomizes monotony.
On top of all this, I just have a fundamental issue with trying to make a video game out of a sport that involves physical activity. To me, the whole point of video games is about being able to do things that cannot already be done in the real world, whereas the point of contact sports is that you're not sitting on your ass playing some game—you're outside in a field with other people and a ball, exerting yourself physically. It's a physical game. That's the point.
Obviously, various fundamental aspects of soccer are going to be lost when you play a virtual version of it—namely, the fact that you're not allowed to touch the ball with your hands. Those aspects of the game aren't present in Soccer
for Nintendo. I'm not trying to say that sports games should be perfect simulations, or that this game is necessarily trying to be one, or anything. I'm just questioning why these games need to exist in the first place.
There's a few things I like about it, though. Like I said—if you can get over the fact that the game is very slow-paced, the first couple minutes are mildly entertaining. I like how the ball itself is animated, giving it a pseudo-3D look. It's definitely the most interesting thing to look at. The cheerleaders that dance around during the half-time show
is a pretty cute touch, even if it's a waste of time—it's the only time the music changes, too.
In terms of options, I can't really complain much either. You have a solid selection of teams representing seven different countries—the US, Great Britan, France, West Germany, Brazil, Japan, and Spain. You can also select between five different AI skill levels, and set the time limit for 15, 30, or 45 minute halves (on a ~5x accelerated clock), not that you'll actually want to play for more than 5.
Naturally, the game is also 2-player, so this will likely be playable online with a friend for the upcoming NSO service. I've never played the game with anyone more than myself before, but I'm willing to bet that it's marginally more entertaining if you have someone else to suffer with. Because, you know, just about everything is.
It may not be the worst sports game ever made, but it's the worst one available on NSO thus far. Don't feel too bad, though. Its developer, Intelligent Systems, went on to create the Fire Emblem
, Advance Wars
, and Paper Mario
franchises, so they're doing just fine.
One of the oldest games the NES has to offer, Baseball
is marginally superior to Soccer
, but is still one of the weaker games available for the NSO service. Originally released in 1983, it absolutely reeks with age, but to its credit, is actually a fairly complete baseball simulator with all the basic mechanics intact—steals and pick-offs, and even "squeeze plays, hit and run plays, and tag up plays" (whatever the fuck those are) as described in the manual.
I suck at this game—or at least, I suck at hitting. I have a reasonable eye for knowing when and when not to swing, but when the time comes to actually swing, I'm the easiest out of all time. I never really understood the timing required to hit a home run, or hit the ball literally anywhere
other than the outfielders' hands or out of bounds. There's either something wrong with me, or the game really is just that difficult. Whatever the case may be, the amount of fun I'm able to have with this game is severely limited.
Controlling base runners is a little confusing and hard to describe, but it works. As simply as I can put it, the arrows on the D-pad correspond to the bases. When batting, pressing "B" after selecting a runner will tell him to advance, and pressing "A" after selecting a runner will have them run back. Pressing down selects all the runners at once. The D-pad/diamond correspondence is also how you get outfielders to pass, steal bases when batting, and go for pick-offs when fielding. It's actually kinda neat how it works, and I'm sure modern baseball sims function the same way.
When it comes to pitching, I feel like I know a little bit more about what I'm doing. Or maybe the AI is just really bad. You can throw five different kinds of pitches—you got your fast balls, your slow balls, your curve balls, and your screw balls (my favorite). Once pitched, I think the ball's can be influenced by pressing the D-pad, but I'm not 100% on that. It's the most fun I can have with the game.
Now, here's where the game starts to feel really
old: You don't get to control any of your outfielders. You can tell them when to throw, sure, but you can't actually control their running—you're at the mercy of the AI's pathfinding. This isn't necessarily a bad thing—actually, it's somewhat realistic when, after all, you're only in control of yourself in the real world—but it's definitely something that makes you go "huh" when playing. Personally, it makes me feel a little less engaged as a player when I have less shit to do.
Fans of the sport might be pleased to know that the game does feature real teams—but they never got the licensing, so no actual stats, player names, or even team names show up at any point in the game. Instead, teams are represented by their initials: A, C, D, P, R, and Y. I'm sure actual baseball fans would be able to parse out what those all stand for—I'm sure "Y" is for Yankees—but ultimately, it doesn't super matter, since the only thing that changes are the uniform colors. Like I said, there are no stats or player names here, and even if there were, the license would've expired by now anyway.
Beyond the major hangups I have with the game, if you can get a hang for the controls and the bullshit, it's a fairly serviceable albeit painfully basic baseball game that future simulators on NES would vastly improve upon. And again, it's probably much more fun with a second player.
Okay, I promise—this isn't the last sports game on the list, but it's the last sports game at the bottom
of the list.
Released in 1984, Tennis
is another ancient-ass Nintendo game based on a world-renowned sport—but this time, it's a sport I actually understand. As a result, I don't suck at this one, but it still wouldn't be my first choice for a tennis simulator if I really wanted to play one one.
The game plays pretty much exactly as you'd expect it to. There's nothing too crazy about it, so as long as you're familiar with how tennis scoring works, you'll probably do just fine. There's five difficulty levels for the AI, and you can apparently play doubles, which I've never tried before.
My biggest problem, I suppose, has to do with the hit detection. It feels a little wonky—even when you hit the ball, there's no oomph
or impact to it. It always feels like you're swinging through air, so it's not the most satisfying game to play. That said, tennis is one of those rare sports I find inherently appealing, however, given that it's one-on-one, making matches feel more intimate and intense. And, uh, easier to understand what's going on.
For a sports game to be considered outstanding, it has to be more than just a played-straight simulation. It has to have something unique about it that gives it character or personality. Soccer
may be a worse game, but the one thing it has over Tennis
is personality. Little touches like half-time shows and stupidly over-the-top victory animations go a long way for me, and if Tennis
had any of those, I wouldn't have any qualms with placing it higher on this list.
Overall, not too bad. I'd obviously much rather stick to Mario Tennis Aces
#15. Donkey Kong
Shigeru Miyamoto's first outing as a game designer, the legendary Donkey Kong
was originally released for the arcade in 1981, making it the oldest and arguably most important game on the list—that being said, this is a game I find myself respecting more than I personally enjoy it.
You can use the word "first" to describe many things about this game. It's not only the first Donkey Kong
game, but the first Mario
game, as well. It's the first platformer, with jumping as a prominent mechanic. It's the first game to put Nintendo on the map for the Western market. It's the first game to have a damsel-in-distress narrative (or any narrative at all), setting the stage for games to become a storytelling medium, rather than just simple, vapid entertainment—even if it is just a cross between Popeye
and King Kong
The three main characters have personalities expressed through graphics, which have endured to become cultural iconography. Mario is depicted as a pudgy middle-aged average Joe with a big goofy mustache, because drawing a more detailed face was too difficult with such a small sprite—a design so perfect, it's not far off from how he's depicted today. It's amazing what they were able to do with such limitations.
There's very little I can say about this game and its lore that hasn't been said a million different ways already—I just think it would be remiss of me to not acknowledge the game's significance to the industry. What do I actually think of the game itself, and why does it rank so low despite how important and legendary it is?
The short answer is because I simply like the rest of the games more. I'm reviewing the NES port, too, mind you—there are aspects of this version that make it noticeably inferior to the arcade original.
The long answer is because I was never actually that big into the game to begin with—even if I were in the mood to play some old classic arcade games. When it comes to those, I've always been more fond of Pac-Man
, Space Invaders
, and Joust
more than I've ever been into Donkey Kong
. I always found it a little too slow-paced, and found its rules and mechanics a little bit frustrating. And because of how the game's story is told, I never feel compelled to save Pauline more than once.
Mario may have been called "Jumpman," but in this game, he's never
been worse at jumping. He can only jump as high as a single body length, and you can't control his trajectory in mid-air. That's fine—it works for the type of game this is, and it's pretty easy to get the hang of. The worst thing is this: if Mario jumps or falls any more
than a single body length, he's going to lose a life. I can understand dying after falling nine or ten body lengths, but the game is really
unforgiving about this, and I always considered it one of its most frustrating aspects.
The endlessly iconic first level, 25m, is my favorite—but the NES version screws up part of what makes it so good. In the original arcade version
, Donkey Kong is shown climbing up the red steel girders while carrying Mario's at-the-time girlfriend, Pauline, with him—establishing the game's conflict in about three wordless seconds. As he stomps over to his barrel-throwing position, he causes the girders to slant out of place, allowing Mario to climb up them easier. The NES version lacks this scene, which I always thought was kind of lame.
The second level, 50m (also known as the "pie factory" stage) is conspicuously absent from the NES port. Never in my life have I played it. I know you have to save Pauline at least once before the stage even shows up, but believe me—it's just not there.
In its place, 75m serves as the second stage—and wow, this level gave me so much grief as a kid. It's the stage with the elevators, where Mario's lack of jumping prowess really starts to bite you in the ass. Pauline's hat, purse, and parasol are also scattered about this stage, and even though all they do is give you extra points, I could never resist gathering every single one of them. Oh, and I can't forget the fucking spring. It's such a weird obstacle to have in the game. I always thought it was super out of place. It doesn't help that it constantly makes noise as it bounces around.
100m is the last stage, and probably the lamest one. All you have to do is step over all the rivets supporting the steel girders, causing Donkey Kong to drop onto his head, rescuing Pauline. It's super easy compared to 75m, and it's not even interesting to play.
And that's it—from then on, the NES version just cycles through these three stages over and over, with a slight increase in speed and difficulty each go-around. No pie factory or anything. Pretty lame, if you ask me—it would be nice if they implemented all the arcade game's touches to the NSO version, but I'm not holding my breath.
If you were wondering what "Game B" is all about, it's the same thing as beating the game once—just a more difficult version of the first loop. The multiplayer, as far as I know, is just a mode that allows a second player to play as soon as you die. They don't play as Luigi, or anything—Luigi didn't exist until 1983.
As I said before, this is a game I respect more than I enjoy—especially the substandard NES version, which doesn't have all the levels and doesn't have the intro cutscene. I definitely don't dislike it, but it's never been one of my favorites. It's probably worth trying out if you haven't already, just so you can say you've played the first-ever Mario
#14. Mario Bros.
Originally released for the arcades in 1983, Mario Bros.
is the second game in the Mario
series, and the first one to feature Luigi to represent player 2. If the title gives you any hint, the game is pretty much meant to be played in multiplayer, and it's where most of the game's entertainment value lies.
The object of the game is to plumb the sewers of all the enemies that emerge from the pipes. Unlike modern Mario
, you cannot simply jump on the enemies' heads and expect them to perish—instead, you have to knock them over by bumping their platform as they walk by, and then you can kick them while they're vulnerable. You'll come across three different enemy types—turtles, crabs, and flies—as well as avoid a small variety of obstacles, like fireballs and sliding pieces of ice. Crabs need to be bumped twice, while flies are more difficult because they bounce around.
If you take too long to kick a vulnerable enemy, it'll get back up—this time stronger, with a different color palette to indicate that it's pissed. The last enemy on the screen will also get stronger to indicate that it's the only one you need to get rid of to clear the stage.
If you're overwhelmed, you can utilize the POW block which will flip over all grounded enemies on the screen—but only three times, and all already-flipped enemies will return to their normal position, as well, so strategic use of this block is necessary. Bonus rounds involving the collection of coins within a set time limit are also prevalent, but there's little purpose to them beyond achieving a high score. As an arcade-style game, there is no real ending—you just play forever until you lose all your lives, or if you just get bored.
And you will, because the single player experience is an intensely boring experience. Getting a second player is essential—not only does it tend to speed up each round, it's also just fun to fuck around with each other, since the game never explicitly says you have
to cooperate. Indeed, the POW block can be used to make the other player bounce helplessly, making them vulnerable—and suddenly, the game is now about who can kill off the other player first. It's pretty hilarious, but I wouldn't try this with anyone who would take it too seriously.
Just as before, "Game B" is simply a more difficult version of "Game A." There's not much else to the game than what I just described. This will definitely be one of the more popular games to play online when the NSO service drops, but the reason I've ranked it on the lower end is because the single player experience is so weak.
#13. Ice Climber
This game probably isn't getting ranked above heavy-hitters like Donkey Kong
and Mario Bros.
on other people's lists, but truthfully and honestly, I think this game is much better than those other two.
Another one of the original NES launch titles, Ice Climber
is a vertical platforming game—setting itself apart from the typical horizontal platforming found in Super Mario Bros.
—themed around the concept of mountaineering. Uniquely, of the game's 32 mountains to climb, you can actually select which mountain you want to start on, which is really nice.
The object of the game is to climb to the top of each mountain by using your mallet to bust the blocks above you and defeating enemies with it along the way. In the Japanese version of the game, the standard enemy is a seal called a Topi, but since seal-clubbing is a pretty touchy subject over in the west, the sprite was altered to a more original monster design resembling a little yeti. I prefer this change—I'm not necessarily morally outraged with clubbing a seal in a cartoony video game like this, but I do think the yeti design is much cooler.
Other enemies include a bird thing that swoops down on you, and my favorite—the motherfucking polar bear that stands on two legs and wears red shorts AND sunglasses. It's the best. He only appears if you take too long to climb the mountain, and forces your advancement by stomping on the ground, which forces the screen to move up a little bit.
The jazzy music that plays during the bonus round (where you collect vegetables) is awesome, and the whole game has this distinctly bright and sunny atmosphere that's oddly incongruent with the game's setting, but juxtaposed in such a pleasant way that it actually puts you in the perfect mood to climb some fucking mountains—and that's really the game's primary appeal for me. Even if the gameplay itself is fairly average, it has enough spark and personality to keep things fun for longer than you might think.
The game's 2-player mode is similar to Mario Bros.
in that both players are on the screen simultaneously, and you can choose amongst yourselves to either compete or cooperate with each other. Player 1 plays as Popo, the boy in the blue parka, and player 2 plays as Nana, the girl in the pink parka. Smash
players will be all too familiar with these names, for although the Ice Climbers never got a sequel, they did appear as playable characters in Super Smash Bros.
to represent the classic 8-bit era. Sakurai must've been a fan.
And so am I, to a degree. I'm not extremely enthusiastic about this game—I do think it suffers a little from the Mario Bros.
single player syndrome—but I do think it has the potential to be one of the most fun games to play with a friend online when the Switch service drops. I would try it out, especially if you happen to enjoy the Ice Climbers in Smash
Originally released in 1984, Excitebike
is pure fun—but a couple of shortcomings present in the NES version which I'll discuss later prevent me from giving it a higher placing.
"Selection A" is essentially a one-man Motocross race where you're just trying to reach the end in record time. "Selection B" is the same thing, except you're actually racing against several AI. As you might expect, holding "A" accelerates, and the "B" button is for greater acceleration at the risk of overheating your bike. You can move along the Y-axis by pushing up or down, which is necessary to avoid crashing into vehicles and other obstacles.
If someone bumps into you from behind, only they will crash, which can be used to your advantage with smart driving. Mashing the "A" button after crashing will help you run back to your bike faster. You can catch a lot of air on ramps with careful movement, so long as you watch your landing—too far to the left or right will result in a crash, but a perfect balance will result in a smooth landing. Wheelies can be performed, but just for fun—I don't think they're useful.
And that's pretty much the game. You might've noticed that "fun in simplicity" is a recurring theme with these early NES titles, but if that's not your bag, don't worry—there's plenty of NES games with a lot more depth and purpose to them. The appeal of Excitebike
is in the satisfying controls and mechanics—it actually does feel like you're in a Motocross race, which is an impressive feeling for a 30-year-old 8-bit game to give you.
The "Design" mode is a level editor, and a pretty impressively extensive one at that—it's definitely the coolest feature of all, and one of my favorite features to have in a game in general. It's basically the only reason why I have it ranked above Ice Climber
is not the first game to have a level editor—I think Lode Runner
and Wrecking Crew
beat it out by a couple of years—but the fact that it's present in the game at all is super cool. Or, you know, it would
be if the damn thing worked properly. You see, in the NES version, there's ultimately no point in creating a track, because as soon as you turn the game off, it's going to get lost forever.
The Japanese version of the game for the allowed you to save your tracks, but the NES save feature is completely functionless—though it remains a selectable option anyway, just to mock you. That fucking sucks, and when the NSO service drops, I'll definitely be on the lookout for a fixed level editor. As it stands now, the NES version is fun for about 10 to 20 minutes before it starts becoming a little dry.
#11. Ice Hockey
See? I told you I wasn't just going to have all the sports games at the bottom. Ice Hockey
is a fine example of a sports game done right, in my opinion—and while there are certainly better hockey games on NES, like Konami's Blades of Steel
, it's this game that made it on the Nintendo Switch's online service.
Originally released in 1988, making it one of the "newer" games when Nintendo had a couple more years of experience making games, Ice Hockey
is almost everything I wanted out of Soccer
—a game that actually fucking feels like you're playing the sport in the title.
Fast-paced, smoothly animated, great music, teams representing seven different countries (the US, Sweden, Canada, Poland, USSR, and Czechoslovakia), and players with varying stats—you have your fat players, who are slow but strong, the skinny players, who are fast but easily get bowled over by the fatties, and then the average players. This may seem painfully standard today, but having these three different classes of player was a big step forward in terms of making these sports games feel more fleshed out, realistic, and satisfying to play. Even fights can occur, though they're not as over-the-top and graphically presented as they are in Blades of Steel
, where the game actually becomes a fighting game for a moment.
I hope you've been watching the gameplay clips I've been posting for each title, because sometimes, you just have to see
what I'm talking about in order to understand and appreciate what makes a game like this so much more fun to play than older sports games. Unlike Soccer
, the rink is detailed and nice to look at. Unlike Baseball
, the players have strengths and weaknesses (despite being balanced for each country). Unlike Tennis
, striking the puck actually has an impact to it, because it makes a beautiful WHACK
sound effect and it's animated properly. The game's "half-time show" involves a bunch of ice resurfacers doing what they do to some nice music. Nothing too flashy.
I don't know what else to say, really—it just goes to show you that sports games can
be lots of fun, so long as you fine tune the mechanics and make it feel authentic. That's what I like to see.
#10. Tecmo Bowl
When I described Ice Hockey
as a game that did "almost" everything I wanted to see in a sports game, Tecmo Bowl
not only fills in the rest, but offers so much more. It, along with its 1991 sequel, Tecmo Super Bowl
, are probably the best sports games the NES has to offer. The first game in this series is marred with niggling issues, which I'll try my best as a non-sports fan to go over—but, in general, Tecmo did a fantastic
job with this game, considering the time (1987, arcade) and the limitations set forth by the NES port (1989).
Most of you probably know that I'm not the biggest fucking fan of American football, and I don't actually know the first thing about how the game works—the appeal of this game for me comes from its overall design, and not necessarily
the gameplay itself. Thought I'd be transparent about that. So, just bear with me.
The game has all the basic modes you'd expect—1.) a single player game where you select your favorite team, and try to defeat all the other teams to beat the game, 2.) a multiplayer match where you and a friend face off, and 3.) a coaching mode, where you don't control the players—you only select the plays.
The AI doesn't always make the best decisions, and even if they do something stupid—my dad says they like to "go for it on 4th-and-1 in their own territory in the 1st quarter" and whatnot. I don't know what that shit means, but apparently it's a thing, and he didn't sound too enthusiastic about it. 2-player games where both players know what they're doing seems to be the way to go.
One of the coolest things about the game in general
is that not only was Tecmo able to pick up the license to use the names of every player in the 1989 roster, they implemented their rudimentary stats and uniform colors as well. This is obviously standard fare for modern sports games like Madden
, but (and I could be wrong about this) I believe this is the first time it's ever been done to any significant degree. It's not perfect, though—the actual NFL team names aren't in the game at all; only their respective cities, and the logos shown for each team are completely made up.
For example, this is the logo they came up with for the Denver Broncos:
What the fuck is that shit? Pretty hilarious.
There are twelve available teams: six for the AFC (the Raiders, Colts, Dolphins, Broncos, Seahawks, and Browns), and six for the NFC (the Redskins, 49ers, Cowboys, Giants, Bears, and Vikings). I'm not sure how many teams even existed in the 80s, but that seems like a bunch to me. Unlike actual football, only nine players from each team can be on the field (as opposed to the usual eleven), and each team can only select between a grand total of 4
plays—two passes and two runs, or sometimes three passes and one run. Definitely limiting, but if you're an idiot like me who can't even read the playbook formations, you're just going to select whichever one your gut goes with anyway.
Or you can just pick the Los Angeles Raiders and pass the ball to Bo Jackson.
You see, in the '80s, one of the best players in the league was a guy called Bo Jackson. He was a running back for the Raiders, and apparently just tore shit up on the field, because they made him the most OP player in this entire game. He's the only running back in the game that can just straight-up outrun the defense, and as long as you know what you're doing, you can't actually be stopped. It's comical.
So the game is horribly unbalanced, but whatever it's fine. It's a rare case where you're almost okay with it, because Jackson's sheer strength as a player has sort of become an amusing Internet joke over the years among football fans.
Everything nice I said about Ice Hockey
before applies to this game as well—perhaps even more so. Another thing I especially love is the implementation of incomplete passes—it's very rare, but it can happen. Remember when I was complaining about how certain sports games never implement stuff like that? The idea that you can fail to catch a ball that's been thrown to you is something that never would've been implemented if this game were designed in 1985, so it's cool that it's a thing here—even if it's just random bullshit.
There's a password system so you can keep track of your win record, but no one's gonna want to write down a password that only ruins their perfect streak.
The graphics and animation have a crisp and fluid look to them, and if you understand the game of football, it's not difficult to understand what's going on at all (source: my dad, who played this shit all the time when he was a kid). The excellent music and sound effects, coupled with the intense and blitz-happy nature of the 4-play system, all work to give the game a fiery testosterone-fueled atmosphere that goes perfectly with the whole football thing. Certain important actions like kick-offs, field goals, and—of course—touchdowns are accompanied by these delightfully cheesy cutscenes to help keep the energy flowing.
I also love my half-time shows in these games—it's always nice to see the developers have fun with these things, since it proves to me that they put their heart into the game, as opposed to just making a soullessly perfect simulation with nothing too crazy ever happening.
Bottom line—American football is an extremely complex game in real life, so for a handful of people to design a game like this that is able to replicate the game so well on a primitive 8-bit system is inherently impressive to me, and it definitely deserves praise for that alone. It's made even better that the game features some captivating elements that can keep even people like me, who have NO interest in football, playing the game. The love and passion for the sport that went into this game is obvious, and even though it's not perfect (and was vastly improved upon later), it's still one of the better sports titles for the NES.
However, there's one caveat for the version that will be released for the NSO service. Obviously, Nintendo no longer has the license for any of the player names, so unfortunately, they probably won't show up at all for the service. Cities, team colors, player stats, and player numbers will all be in-tact—but you won't know any of the player's names, unless you have an encyclopedic knowledge of old-school American football.
For your benefit, in case you ever wanted to experience the power of Tecmo Bo Jackson, his player number is 34. He's a running back for the Los Angeles Raiders.
#9. Dr. Mario
Originally released in 1990, Dr. Mario
is a Tetris
-like puzzle game where you help Mario kill viruses by stacking three like-colored pills onto them (either red, blue, or yellow).
The game is addicting by nature, and though I wouldn't say it's nearly as good as Tetris
, it still has a charm and appeal all its own, and serves as a decent change of pace if Tetris
is the only game of this style you've ever played. The megavitamins are affected by gravity, so when one half disappears, the other half will fall down—paying attention to and exploiting this particular mechanic will reveal the game's true depth.
Like Ice Climber
, you can choose which level you want to start on—even the very last one, where the medicine bottle is nearly filled to the very brim with every color of virus. I'd love to see someone beat that.
, where you're normally able to choose between three different music tracks to jam to, Dr. Mario
only offers two—"Fever" and "Chill"—but they're both still bangers. "Fever" is probably the more iconic of the two, but I've always preferred the atmosphere of "Chill."
The game doesn't lend itself to much analysis; it's just a good game for puzzle fans.
It's interesting, again, how Dr. Mario was chosen as a character in Super Smash Bros.
I can't imagine he's a character too many people have requested before, but he's certainly not an unwelcome addition to that game's roster.
#8. Pro Wrestling
Indeed, this is the "A WINNER IS YOU" game.
Originally released in 1986, this is probably my favorite wrestling game of all time, which is high praise coming from someone who doesn't give a fuck about wrestling in general. It's the closest the NES has to a straight fighting game, and it's just fun as hell.
One or two players can choose between six different combatants: Fighter Hayabusa of Japan, Star Man of Mexico(?)
Kin Corn Karn of Korea, Giant Panther of the US, The Amazon (green monster of unknown origin), or King Slender of the US. The name "Kin Corn Karn" still makes me laugh to this day. All the fighters have the same moves, but they all have one or two of their own unique special moves—Fighter Hayabusa has a hard-to-land drop kick that stuns your opponent pretty badly, and the Amazon has an attack where he tries to chomp his opponent's head off. It's awesome.
The single player game has you choose your fighter before pitting you against the five others—King Slender being the VWA (Video Wrestling Association) champion and the first "boss" of the game. If King Slender is chosen, then Giant Panther will be the final opponent instead. After winning, the second phase begins—a Title Defense mode.
From here, if you can win ten more fights without losing once, you'll be able to fight against the game's true final boss: Great Puma, champion of the VWF (Video Wrestling Federation). I've never been able to do this, personally—I can make it to Title Defense, but then it starts getting a little too hard.
Pressing the "A" and "B" buttons will punch and kick, respectively—the kick always knocks your opponent down, and you can always attempt to tap them out, but you won't actually get anywhere until you actually start using some wrestling techniques. When you and your opponent are clinched, you can enter a specific button combination, and if you're faster than your opponent, you'll perform whatever move your inputs command. I don't full understand how it all works, though—it's one of those things that requires you to read the manual. I've seen body slams, suplexes, and all kinds of crazy shit just by mashing the buttons. If your opponent is stunned, you can try to climb at the top of the ropes and nail them with a flying body slam or knee drop if you're feeling stylish, but only if you think you have enough time.
You can also bounce off the ropes and attempt to clothesline your opponent, but you can also be thrown against the ropes and be completely helpless—and vice-versa. The coolest part of any match has to be when someone gets tossed out of the ring. At this point, you can pretty much just wail on each other, because the match can only continue for a few seconds when one player is out of the ring—so it's all about running a train over your opponent and stunning them long enough to where they can't limp over to the ring in time.
It's cool to me how animated the crowd is—and how there's not only a referee constantly in the ring, but a fucking cameraman outside the ring, as well. If you haven't caught the theme by now, I'm big on games that have a lot of personality, and this game is brimming with it. If you consider yourself someone who finds wrestling games monotonous, then this one probably isn't for you—but I don't think there's a better game in the genre available for NES, and it's a great addition for the Switch's online service.
I've heard it through the grapevine that they actually fixed the Engrish, though—the victory screen now has the slightly-more-grammatically-sensible "WINNER IS YOU" rather than "A WINNER IS YOU." If that's true, then the game might just be literally unplayable.
#7. Ghosts 'n Goblins
Originally released for the arcade in 1985, I actually fucking hate this game—but I'd be lying if I said it wasn't because I'm terrible at it. Objectively speaking, the NES port is pretty rough around the edges, and a lot of janky shit can happen, but I think the game has enough going for it to warrant putting it on the upper-middle end of this list.
While having a picnic in a fucking graveyard or some shit, your girlfriend gets kidnapped by a devil, and now you have to rescue her from a horde of ghosts and goblins. The game is notoriously one of the most difficult games of all time—which is ironic, considering it actually throws you somewhat of a bone by allowing you to get hit once before dying—but you have to beat it twice in one go to get the true ending. I've never made it significantly far without getting too frustrated, it's one of those games.
What helps the game's appeal for me is its strong music and consistently cartoonish gothic art design. If Castlevania
paid homage to old classic horror films with its imagery, this game pays tribute to every children's Halloween party ever. It's delightful, and if nothing else makes you want to see what comes next, it's gonna be that.
The game is a little bit faster-paced than Castlevania
, though, and the level design is much weaker and more haphazard. While the game does demand much of your skill as a player, and encourages you to play cautiously, there's still a lot of bullshit. Enemies will occasionally pop up out of absolutely nowhere, giving you no time to react—and even though it's cool that you can get different weapon power-ups, the fact that the weapons you get seem to drop at complete random (and never when you want them to) doesn't really boost the game's fun factor very much.
The difficulty is kinda unfair, but it instills within the player a sense of defiance. Even though I've never been good at this game, I've never ruled out the possibility of me being able to inch my way through it—but depending on how the rest of the game is, my opinion on the game could change drastically. For now, it'll sit at the #7 spot. Definitely worth trying, but be patient and expect to get your shit pushed in.
#6. Double Dragon
I normally associate beat 'em ups with monotony, lack of depth, and braindead gameplay—so it's always nice when a game can take a genre you hate, and have you respect it to a certain degree.
Originally released in 1987 for the arcades, the NES port of Double Dragon
is one of the great classics of the genre. The plot is as bare bones as it gets: Thugs took your girl; go after them. Fortunately, you play as Billy Badass (actually, it's just Billy Lee), a martial artist who learns more and more techniques as the game goes on.
The reason I tend to hate games like this is because of how little the developers care to balance and flesh out the characters moveset. There's a fundamental disconnect between me and everyone else, it seems—I'm playing to win, so I'm going to figure out which moves are my strongest, and just spam the shit out of them, because I don't want to lose. Meanwhile, everyone else is just here to have fun, and they're okay with using the full extent of your available techniques for the sake of being flashy, even if it's completely impractical or unnecessary. This is why I get bored, because I'm not entertained by flashy nonsense. I just wanna play the game and win.
That's why I'm able to enjoy Double Dragon
. It has no frills—you can learn a couple flashy techniques here and there, sure, but for the most part, all of your moves have a separate purposes, utilities, and some are more effective vs. a certain type of enemy. Using your enemies' weapons against them is satisfying, as is using the environment to your advantage. None of these things are necessarily unique to this game, but it's the simplicity of it that I find appealing.
The game has a very sleek and cool tone to it—it's neat how every stage opens up with a sepia tone title card for every mission. Every level is very colorful and has gorgeous amounts of detail put into them. I don't think the music is quite up to par, though—some stages have fine music, but on others, it can actually sound pretty grating.
Naturally, there's a 2-player cooperative mode, and there's also a "Mode B" which I initially assumed was just another difficulty increase, but it's actually a whole new game mode altogether. It's a vs. mode where you select between six different fighters and face off with either an AI opponent or a second player, Street Fighter
style. I highly doubt it's all that great, but the fact that they even thought to put such a mode in the game gives it a big boost.
I seriously can't wait to try this one on NSO.
#5. Super Mario Bros.
I don't think I need to say a single word about this game, but just in case you were wondering: Yes, it's still good.
If you haven't played it, do so. It doesn't matter who you are or what you like.
#4. Balloon Fight
All right, now we're getting into some really good-ass games. I don't really know what it is about this one—it's kinda weird, but it's SO much fun.
Originally released for the arcade in 1984, Balloon Fight
is the best Joust
ripoff I've ever played. You're a boy flying around with two balloons, and your goal (for the standard game) is to bash into other balloon fighters—preferably before they're able to inflate their own balloons. Once they start flying, they become a threat, and you'll have to pop their balloons before they pop yours. They only get one balloon to work with, but you have two. When one of yours is popped, you'll have to mash the "A" button even harder to stay afloat. Lose the second one, and you lose a life.
Once you pop their balloon, it's not quite over yet—they'll start floating down with a parachute, and if they manage to land safely, they'll start inflating another balloon. They'll change color, too, indicating that they've become more aggressive—just like in Mario Bros.
In order to stop them from returning, you'll have to bump into them as their parachuting down to get rid of them permanently—or, if you're lucky, they'll wind up landing in the water, where they'll get eaten by a giant fish (which is your warning to steer clear of the water yourself).
Other hazards include flippers, which flip you all over the place at random if you make contact with them, and cumulonimbus clouds that generate lightning sparks that spell death if you touch them. These are kinda random and can be tricky to avoid if you're not super careful, but they all add depth and character to the overall experience. The screen also does that thing where if you fly all the way to the right, you'll end up on the left, and vice-versa. Skilled players will take advantage of this, and realize that the enemies can do the same. If you think an enemy is far away from you, because you're on the far left of the screen and he's on the far right, you're actually very close to each other.
Outside of the standard game, we also have Balloon Trip—a single player test of flying skill where your balloon fighter is sent across the ocean to dodge a barrage of lightning sparks. All you have to do is not die and see how far you can make it—touching a single spark will end the game. It's very addicting, and the music that plays is splendid.
Graphically, I always thought this game was pretty to look at in a vaguely surreal way. The night sky with the thunder clouds is the perfect back drop to the oddball nature of the gameplay. Honestly, the one thing the game needed overall was a 2-player versus mode. You can
have a second player join in on the standard game, but it's meant to be entirely cooperative. If the game had a Vs. mode, this would've been an easy 5/5—it's easily one of the strongest of the arcade-style NES games, hence why it's ranked so high, and I'm sure it'll be a fucking blast to play on the Switch. Try not to miss this one.
This is the only game on the list that I never played as a kid—I first tried it less than a year ago, thinking I wouldn't be into it, and wound up falling in love with it. This game fucking rocks.
Originally released in 1985, back when Konami was a good company, Gradius
is the first game in its eponymous series—Life Force
is another game you're probably at least familiar with from the same franchise, as it's generally considered to be the superior game (though not by me). It's a horizontal space shoot-'em-up that is satisfying to play as it is insanely difficult.
Even the poster is awesome, even though it looks pretty Star Wars
The most intriguing thing about the game is probably the weapon upgrade system. Defeating a red-colored enemy, or just successfully destroying a small sequence of enemies, will drop a red power-up orb thing that essentially gives you one unit of upgrade. At this point, you can press the "B" button to spend your unit on whatever upgrade is currently highlighted on the bottom of the screen—the more to the right the upgrade is, the more units you'll need to collect before you can "purchase" it.
The upgrades are as follows:
1 unit: Speed Up. Allows the Vic Viper to move around faster.
2 units: Missile. Fires a missile that is shot towards the bottom of the screen to check low-flying enemies.
3 units: Double. Makes it so your second shot is angled upward. Undesirable, as it cannot be used with Laser.
4 units: Laser. Tears shit up.
5 units: Option. Spawns an orange ball thing that has all of the Viper's current abilities. Is awesome. Can have two.
6 units: Shield (labeled as "???" in-game). Basically makes you invincible for as long as they're up.
There are also blue orbs that appear every once in awhile, and nabbing this one will destroy all the enemies currently on-screen. I sure wish this one appeared more often.
The game is notoriously unforgiving—but unlike Ghosts 'n Goblins
, it's not unfair about it. The enemies all follow distinct and clear patterns, and though it's not uncommon for a lot of bullets to be on the screen at once, it's easy to train yourself to fight as efficiently as possible to minimize your deaths—which will require a lot of patience, since you cannot take a single
hit (without shields, which is the most expensive upgrade). It's about skill, not bullshit.
More rough than dying in one hit is the fact that you lose all
your weapon upgrades upon respawning, too—so if you have two Options, a Missile, a Laser, and a fuckton of Speed Ups, the pressure is on. You pretty much have to play perfectly to make it far.
My least favorite aspect of the game is that there's no Machine Gun power-up, or anything that gives you the highest rate of fire without having to mash the fuck out of the "A" button. Because, yeah, this is unfortunately one of those shoot-'em-ups that, while it does
allow for auto-fire if you hold the button down, the rate of fire isn't nearly high enough to handle the onslaught of shit coming your way—so you pretty much HAVE to mash if you want to survive. And that can get pretty tiresome. It's the main reason why I've never bothered to beat the game yet, because it's too hard on my thumbs after awhile.
Despite everything going against you, however, the game never feels oppressive to play. Perhaps it's the satisfying gameplay, the crisp and beautiful graphics, or the hopeful and uplifting music—but even though the game is basically putting you through several layers of hell, it feels like the most pleasant journey all throughout each attempt.
And can I just say again that this game was made in 1985? The same year as Super Mario Bros.
? Play the footage of those two games back to back, and you will see just how far ahead of the game Konami was back then. They just had it figured out.
Please play this game on NSO. It fucking rules.
#2. Super Mario Bros. 3
Welcome to the best Mario
game for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
This is another one of those games that I think has a reputation that precedes itself—everyone understands why this game is amazing, and if you don't, then you kinda just need to go out and play it. No amount of explanation from me will perfectly encapsulate everything you need to know about it, and I wouldn't want to spoil that for you anyway.
In a nutshell, I suppose, Mario 3
pretty much set the gold standard for how modern Mario
games are played today. Many of the conventions you see now all started here—a map design that plays and feels like a board game, amazing, memorable, and iconic level design, beautifully constructed worlds that have their own cute little themes, perfect controls, physics, and overall game mechanics, awesome power-ups, cool enemies with lots of variety, great music, great atmosphere, fuckloads of content and shit to do, bonus rounds, hidden secrets that feel rewarding to find, and even a little bit of strategy going on with the item-carrying system—it is, in many people's eyes, the ultimate Mario
The 2-player game is pretty sweet, too, as it allows both players to more or less compete with one another as they try to see who can progress the farthest—and if you select the start tile in a 2-player game, you can play a competitive head-to-head version of the arcade Mario Bros.
game where you compete for extra lives.
Ultimately, I still prefer Super Mario World
. But 3
is pretty dope, too.
#1. The Legend of Zelda
You probably saw this one coming.
This game does things to my soul. It gives
me a soul. I wouldn't go so far to say it's my favorite Zelda
game, or anything—though it's definitely in my top 5—but regardless of ranking or any other nonsense, this game is very special to me, and I don't give a single fuck how "dated" anyone thinks it is.
Can it be a little cryptic sometimes? Okay, maybe more than a little. But that's the beauty of it. This game was designed as the yang to the yin of Super Mario Bros.
—a game that is designed to be linear, intuitive, and straightforward. Zelda
, by stark contrast, doesn't tell you anywhere to go, because it's your
adventure, and there are no right answers.
That's all I think needs to be said about it for now. If you haven't played it before, now (as in the 18th, when the NSO service comes out) is as good a time as ever. It may not be the best NES game of all time, but it is, in my view, the best game currently available for the service, and I'd love for everyone to give it a shot.
And that's just about all of them—with the exception of two: Yoshi (1991)
and River City Ransom (1989)
, the only two launch titles for the service that I haven't played yet. When the service drops, I'll definitely update the thread later with reviews for both.
The average score at the moment is about 3.7/5—definitely not bad, but could be MUCH better. I personally would like to see the score rise above 4.0, and then we'll know it's a premium library. We also need a couple of classics that are conspicuously absent. Give us some Castlevania
, and Kirby's Adventure
—or you could take the obscure route and give us Trojan
. That would be sick as fuck.
Still, we have a decent
variety to start with. I think it's safe to say there's probably at least one game for everyone.
TL;DR - (years below are based on the NES release, not the original Famicom/arcade release)20. Soccer (1985) - 2/5
19. Baseball (1985) - 2/518. Tennis (1985) - 3/5 [-1]
17. Yoshi (1992) - 3/5 [+1]
16. Mario Bros. (1986) - 3/5 [-1]
15. Donkey Kong (1986) - 3/5 [+1]
14. Ice Climber (1985) - 3/5
13. Excitebike (1985) - 3/512. Ice Hockey (1988) - 4/5
11. Tecmo Bowl (1989) - 4/5
10. Ghosts'n Goblins (1986) - 4/5 [-2]
9. Double Dragon (1988) - 4/5 [-2]
8. Pro Wrestling (1987) - 4/5 [+1]
7. Dr. Mario (1990) - 4/5 [+3]
6. Super Mario Bros. (1985) - 4/5
5. Balloon Fight (1986) - 4/5
4. River City Ransom (1990) - 4/53. Gradius (1986) - 5/5
2. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990) - 5/5
1. The Legend of Zelda (1987) - 5/5
?. NES Open Tournament Golf (1991)
?. Solomon's Key (1987)
?. Super Dodge Ball (1989)