From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Old School Console Love: The Nintendo Years

If you were raised on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, conjure up images of your childhood. What comes to mind? If you’re anything like me, it is probably images of Mario, Link, Little Mac, Samus Aran, Solid Snake, and the Howard and Nestor cartoons from the early issues of Nintendo Power Magazine. These are more than just iconic images from your childhood — they are old friends you may not have dusted off in years.

Let’s dust them off, shall we?

I could spend a thousand words or more just working my way through the tentpole games and characters and not touch on some of the other “classic” games which were part of my (and maybe your) formative gaming experience. We all know about Super Mario Bros (plus the two excellent sequels), The Legend of Zelda (the greatest game ever made), Mike Tyson’s Punch Out! (there can be only one), Metroid, and Metal Gear. We know these games. We love these games, though some more than others. They have created entire franchises which have spanned multiple consoles.

What about the other games? Well, some of these have spawned franchises themselves (some, better than others) and some would make your iconic lists, but there are a number of games I want to mention just in case you forgot.

The first is Contra. Wait, wait, you say. Contra is an iconic game that deserves that top level listing! I agree. It is. The reason I’ve dropped it down here is because of the Konami Code, which my friends and I called the Contra Code back in the day. You remember it, right?

Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right BA BA Start

Yeah, you remember it. Remember busting on that classic controller trying to get the code in before the start screen finished scrolling. Oh, yeah! That’s the code that gives you thirty lives and is arguably the only way to beat Contra. If you rented (or purchased) other Konami games back in the day you probably tried out this code on those games too. Odds are, it worked. Lifeforce? Absolutely!

All hail the Konami Code.

Never before had a game based on a tv show or movie been as good as Duck Tales was. You are Scrooge McDuck and are searching the world to find treasures to officially make you the richest duck in the world. There are five levels and a final boss battle. In a nice touch, you can tackle the levels in any order you so choose. African Mines, The Moon, Transylvania, Himalayas, and The Amazon. You use your cane as a weapon. Most commonly you will use the cane as a pogo stick, bouncing off enemies or off treasure, but you can also use it as a golf club to knock rocks and stuff at baddies. In my mind this is one of the best games released for the NES. I honestly believe that you missed out if you had a Nintendo and never played Duck Tales. Capcom nailed this one. Nailed it.

Double Dragon 2: The Revenge was, as one could imagine, the sequel to the first Double Dragon game. It is much, much easier. This is probably why I like it so much. You play as Billy or Jimmy Lee, the heroes of the first game, as they avenge the murder of Marian – the girl you rescued in the first game. Way to save the girl, guys. There’s nothing like vigilante justice, though.

Battletoads, on the other hand, was the answer to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You’ve got two toads named Zitz and Rash and are trying to rescue Pimple. Sure, because pimples should be rescued. I didn’t get the chance to play the game often, and I do remember the game being rather difficult, but memorable all the same. Here’s the thing, despite the fact that the game was a presumed response to the TMNT series, I always felt that this was more of a Double Dragon style game. This would make sense two years later when the Battletoads & Double Dragon crossover game came out for the NES. Never played that one, but it sounds delightful.

Bad Dudes may have been an attempt to answer the popularity of Double Dragon. In Bad Dudes the President has been kidnapped by ninjas. It is up to you, as a bad dude, to rescue him. Now, ignoring the preposterous premise of the game (moreso, even, than Duck Tales). You’ll punch and kick (and jump) your way through the game and honestly, it doesn’t matter who you are rescuing. Being a bad dude, you are a brawler and you get the chance to beat up ninjas. What’s better than beating up ninjas? It’s a fairly basic game, and not exceptionally difficult, but it was a lot of fun.

Bubble Bobble is a simple concept of a game. You control one of two cute and squat dragons, Bub and Bob. You shoot bubble out of your mouth to trap and defeat enemies and you climb and jump your way through a variety of levels. I assume this game has an end, but I never found it. I’ll confess, though, that I didn’t make a concerted effort to beat the game. It was just fun to pick up and play from time to time. It is possible, however, that this game does not have an ending. Back in college I played Bugs Bunny’s Birthday Blowout (I think that’s the one…it was definitely a Bugs Bunny game) and I can honestly tell you that I spent four+ hours on that game and played through more than 100 levels and the game DID NOT END. I can only hope that Bubble Bobble actually ends. Regardless, good game. It is worth noting that this is the old school game (like Mario and Contra) where getting hit by an enemy will kill you. What’s up with that?

So long as there have been video games there have been baseball games. While I can appreciate the attempted realism today’s baseball games have brought to consoles, and I appreciate games like Bases Loaded back on the NES, and the original RBI Baseball with the squat little players will always be a favorite, but the baseball game that is tops is Baseball Stars. Baseball Stars stepped away from those squat little RBI Baseball players and provided a variety of lanky players and a number of pre-made teams with players you’ve never heard of. There was even an all women’s team, The Lovely Ladies. Besides the great gameplay, here’s what made Baseball Stars so awesome: You could create a team and then create players. Each win would net your team money and you can spend that on players. The more money you have the more you can spend on the best players with the better maximum stats. As you play, you can then spend money to increase the stats of your players until you make the ultimate team with the best hitters and pitchers. Oh, it’s awesome! This was revolutionary and it was good. There were cartoonish elements to the game, but SNK put in a solid baseball engine to build a fun game around. The music only added to the goodness. The only problem you would ever have is something you face with any NES game with a battery…losing your save. The horrors of losing your save!

There are all sorts of great (and not so great) games that I didn’t have room to talk about. Here’s a short list of some of them: Mega Man, StarTropics, Maniac Mansion, Faxanadu, Rygar, Jackal, River City Ransom, Ninja Gaiden, Rad Racer, 3D World Runner, Kid Icarus, Bionic Commando, Lode Runner, Skate or Die, California Games, Crystalis, Final Fantasy, Kung Fu, Dragon Warrior, Arkanoid, Balloon Fight, Hoops, Bomberman, Karnov, Castlevania, Friday the 13th, Ice Climber, Jaws, The Karate Kid, The Legend of Kage, Marble Madness, Super Spike V Ball, RC Pro Am.

Yes, that is a short list.

Tell us about some of your favorites. Which NES games did YOU love back in the day?