This week is the 30th birthday of the Nintendo Entertainment System, also known as the reason fun exists. I'm pretty sure not buying your kid an NES in the '80s actually constituted a form of child abuse. It was the magic box from which whimsy and happiness flowed out in 8-bit candy apple laser dreams. I have had girlfriends I've loved less than my NES.
It's weird to think about it now in an era of photorealistic graphics and completely immersive virtual reality set-ups, but even back when games sported art slightly less technically impressive than an average Sunday comic strip, they were capable of moments of real cinematic genius. They could tell a story even with the most basic of electronic tools, and today we celebrate the ten that you never forgot.
Flashback Top 10 NES Games We're Buying This Year
10. Mega Man 2 is one of the greatest entries in the series, and since Capcom is on an HD remake kick lately, I would like to throw this title into the hat for consideration. The intro to the game isn't a masterpiece of writing or anything, but the build from sad lament at the endless futility of evil to the majestic climb up the tower into the high-powered main theme while Rock looks out over the city prepared to fight on is still a great moment that is endlessly copied.
9. Endings in the NES era were a mixed bag. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse was one of the few that actually had multiple endings, which gave the game a lot of replay value in a time when you couldn't just look them up on YouTube. Trevor's ending with Sypha was particularly rewarding. Not only was it probably the hardest fight aside from Trevor by himself, but it offers a real tender moment as the orphaned girl finds understanding for her powers and love with the vampire hunter. Remember when you had to actually read the manual to know the back stories?
8. Shadowgate adds a unique wrinkle to the area of cinematics in the 8-bit era. The game actually made dying in a game fun. There were dozens of unique, witty and morbidly hilarious ways to shuffle off the mortal coil, which was pretty amazing at a time when Nintendo was whitewashing anything that could be considered at all family-unfriendly.
7. Tecmo made some really great sports games, and they always included fantastic highlight shots. Tecmo World Wrestling was never going to go down in history as a good wrestling game, but they really put a lot of effort into making the finishing moves into dramatic moments. Modern wrestling games could learn a lot from them, actually. Skip to 2:55 in the video to see what I mean.
6. Clash at Demonhead was a fairly obscure platformer, but it got some love as the name of a band in Scott Pilgrim, so it's had a bit of a renaissance. The opening is just about as classic a set-up as you could want and shows off how NES games could use small framed shots to reconstruct the way movies guide scenes with specific camera lenses.Flashback Shadowgate Finally Returns Thanks to Kickstarter
5. In Japan, Bad News Baseball was known as Fierce Fighting!! Stadium, and why anyone would change that is a mystery. It was glitchy, had a bad habit of making home runs too easy and was more or less an average baseball title at best. Where it did excel was in its cutscenes, which included some fun little home-run animations. The real gem, which I am unable to find on YouTube, was when you had a close play at home plate. That's when the game would go straight-up anime and get really intense with a special throwing and slide cartoon that was one-of-a-kind.
4. From the same makers as Clash at Demonhead was Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode, adapted from the long-running manga. Even with Nintendo's usual censorship, which in this case removed references to a resurrected Nazi empire as the bad guys and changed the profession of Golgo from assassin to spy, it's a hell of a game that offered more adult fare. The opening scene is simplistic but contains touches of animation brilliance that keep it a classic.
3. The Goonies II is not a good game. How the hell are we supposed to know you get the candle by punching a random woman five times for no absolute reason? Nonetheless, it holds a place as a cult classic, and even inspired a song by the Gothsicles. You're rewarded at the end of this confusing adventure by saving a topless mermaid named Annie. She's got a weird blank chest, but in '80s gaming, you take what you can get. Of course, the Internet has fixed this problem (NSFW link).
2. Ninja Gaiden was so hard that I'm pretty sure it was designed by people who hate children. The only reason anyone ever powered through it was the fact that it had the greatest cutscenes of any game on the NES ever. The ability of the game to tell stories in comic form was just unbelievable. For my money, Ninja Gaiden II had the better scenes overall, but nothing will ever top that ninja duel in the first game. Nothing except...
1. The opening to Blaster Master defies all logic, and yet cannot be anything but awesome! A boy named Jason plays with his pet frog, who suddenly escapes only to come into contact with some radioactive material that apparently just landed in Jason's backyard. After immediately growing to giant size, the frog jumps down a hole. Jason follows down the hole, finds a tank, suits up and proceeds to just start shooting mutants because why the hell not. It's a surrealist masterpiece. What it lacks in Ninja Gaiden's sense of drama it makes up for in insanity. Of all the games on the NES, nothing topped storytelling like Blaster Master.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.