Favorite NES Games. Part Three.
Back in action. It got kind of difficult to talk about the games the better that they get. There’s so much that I just want you to feel while you’re playing them that I’m unable to truly convey in words. I also think I’m finding it difficult to explain them in a way that feels like they’re cascading in ascending order, like getting better and better. I think they’re all just such pure childhood gems for me that trying to make one sound better or worse than the next is beyond my ability.
They’re all, ultimately, my favorites. Here are numbers 15–11!
And as always, thank you guys so much for the feedback, both in person and via texts and on Facebook. Great to hear back from those days. Love it.
15. Mike Tyson’s Punch Out
Magic. Pure magic. Being able to have no understanding of boxing, but to be able to watch each individual, endlessly memorable opponent and figure out their weak spot, their pattern and their “tell” was so fun. And playing it beside my cousin and older brother (who I rarely, if ever, see anymore) was very cool. I wouldn’t have been able to get anywhere in this game without them showing me the ropes, giving me the hints on what each boxer was going to do at the time and how to counteract it. I wasn’t about beating these guys in a certain amount of time or getting them out right away. I was patient and was able to wait for them to throw their special punch and counter it. Even now, thinking back to when Nintendo had all of their trading cards out, I always would be the happiest when I would get one from the Punch Out! game. I don’t think I ever got past Mr. Sandman because he was a nightmare to defeat. So fast. So little to go on to know when to swing. Which meant I faced Soda Popinski all too often. I was able to fight Mike Tyson once when my friend got there and I asked to play and it was embarrassing. I got crushed.
But the music, the color scheme, the pacing of the game… I could go back and play them right now and still love it just the same. I’ll definitely go forward to do the SNES list and I’m sure Super Punch Out would find a home there as well. It’s a genius game. And the fact that you’re Little Mac, the underdog, this tiny swell guy… all the better. Really felt like a true hero.
14. TMNT 2: The Arcade Game
When this game was getting hot, I was in the third grade. The PRIME age group to be a fan of the Turtles and also in the PRIME of their rise to brilliance. To fame. And at the time in second, third, fourth grade, there was a little arcade you could have birthday parties at called Fast Fingers and that I’m assuming a parent would pay for in advance for the party and the time in the spot and you could play all the games FOR FREE. And there were three that I wanted to play to death. Three Little Pigs(?) [researched it… it’s called Pig Out… great game], Simpsons Arcade Game, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And when it was later revealed that this game was coming to the NES, I think all of us within my generation completely lost our minds.
This was exactly what we wanted after the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game basically told us directly to our face that we were not only terrible at helping the turtles fight evil, but also that we were terrible at video games in general. Being able to go through the game as any character WITH a friend without needing quarters or any more money than I’d initially spent on the game. As a brawler, it was one of the best games that I’ve played in the genre, even still. The boss battles are tough but doable, and seeing those moments from the show that I completely had fallen in love with just continued the dream. What an incredible ride.
I had the pleasure of going back through this game when they rereleased it as a digital download on the Xbox 360. And it’s genuinely difficult to call it a joy. It’s such a tough game. Just so many moments of seething and “are you kidding meeeee” followed by brief and non-denominational prayer. But to see the characters the levels, and Capcom once again CRUSHING it with the soundtrack, wow. What a great game. I remember always wanting to see a proper release of this game’s songs as a digital download or even better, a physical release. The platforming is strong, the ability to use the cane as a weapon and a problem solver was well balance. The pogo cane utility ruled as well. I learned later on in life that there was a way to make the money pit higher or more attractive so that when you dive into it, it’s more appealing. Something like that. But in the day, it was, genuinely, all about points and gems and collectibles. That made the games. And finding gems and rubies and not just speed-running through something was really fun.
This was a nice, clean experience. Great, well made game. Fully challenging. Nothing felt cheap. Nothing felt stacked against you. You just had to learn the levels, learn the ropes and use your skills. The graphics were also bright. Not just some false, secondhand representation of what the characters should look like. NOW DON’T GET ME WRONG. These were CERTAINLY NO DARKWING DUCK. Because THOSE graphics.. SHEWW.. great. It also didn’t hurt that I genuinely loved the show at the time this was released and as always has been mentioned in these previous descriptions, that went an extremely long way. Being Scrooge McDuck and roughing up the Beagle Boys felt right. Felt like what I should be doing at the time. It also added more background to understanding just how on Earth Scrooge had that massive fortune. He wasn’t just some old Scottish fool. He had a little bit of Indiana Jones in him.
12. Goonies II
This game comes down to YET ANOTHER game that is based on a franchise that I really loved. As a kid and even beyond, I loved The Goonies movie. Could watch it any time of day, no matter who was with me or around. Loved the idea of kids being completely left to their own devices, to their own adventure. No parents around, almost absolutely no semblance of order either. They were in underground caves, pirate ships, finding gold. Such a departure from being a kid in the real world and going to school, coming home, and then repeating the process all the while trying to keep up with homework, all the stuff your parents wanted you to do. I loved it. I loved their world.
In the game, it went even further. You were Mikey with a yo-yo, back for more, rescuing the guys who had gone with you in the initial adventure. It had almost no grounds in the movie aside from its cast. Going through the game and remembering what item you needed to get to different areas was crucial. Very Metroid-vania. And then the fact that there was the platforming, killing bad guys standard fare, only to give way to a first person mode when you got into specific caves to get game changing items or to rescue where the different Goonies were hidden added a new layer to the game. My sister and I still quote an old lady (I think it was an old lady) in one of those rooms that when you hit her, she would say “Ouch. What do you do?” on repeat. In fact, that’s definitely how you get one of those special items. I think you have to beat it out of one of those NPCs. I also loved the concept of being able to beat gun-wielding bad guys with just a kid’s toy of a yo-yo and other weird stuff that you would find. Like a boomerang. Or a Molotov cocktail. Geez.
Ultimately, you get to a point where you’ve rescued all the Goonies and you eventually rescue a mermaid from the Fratellis. I think by this point in the game it’s all sort of “getting to the end of it” and I’m not sure the investment was still there. But the familiarity of the game, for me, always took me all the way through it. This is one that I’ve played through several times and did a lot of it from muscle memory and repetition. And just like a favorite album or film, when you’ve seen something enough times, it lives on with you even when you’re not playing it. And decades later, this game just has so many of the tropes and is a tacit measuring stick that I measure so many deep platformers against. Game was a complete package.
11. The Legend of Zelda
I was actually surprised that when I was putting this list together that this game fell so “low” on the chart. Like not even top ten? Word. But the truth of the matter is that this game almost belongs on the same part of the list that had the games listed that I just wasn’t ready for. I’d watched my cousin plod through the game a lot. Not beating it, per say, but going through dungeons, going through the overworld. Talking to the merchants. And there’s just so much going on in this game, so much stuff that’s deeper than it has any right to be. You just have to know the game. You have to explore it. You have to continue to test it. You have to go places you’re unsure about and uncomfortable with. It’s really a great adventure.
It’s around the time when you get to the dungeons where there are red and blue mages shooting shit at you from across the room with nowhere to hide that it hits a point of pure frustration for me. And as a kid, I remember calling my cousin AND the Nintendo power help line to ask them, like, “How do I get past this dungeon?” and there was no way I could be helped. The real answer is just “be better. bring potions. don’t die.” And even playing through the game from the eShop on my 3ds last year was just as difficult. I was desperately trying not to use walkthroughs and not to use any online hints to get as far as I possibly could. Even now on that save file, I have the green armor and the wooden sword and I have no idea where to find upgrades to either. and in fact, I might just be on that same damn dungeon. I’m not sure. I haven’t been back on there in a while due to the sheer magnitude of “how big” the game is and how many possible places I have to look. I remember being like “okay, wow. I’m truly lost.”
But this game, MAN. Truly an open world adventure. You always felt tested, you always felt so rewarded when you finally figured something out, you finally felt like you broke a new door down when you got a new item. Even the feeling of having a bomb just in the right time when you saw a weak wall felt incredible. Every boss battle taught a lesson (except for the damn three headed dragon one; that one just taught me that life was a punishing affair).
And obviously when you carry forward with the lineage this game left, there’s just so much subject matter that was born of such a “simple” beginning. I’ve grown, like many of us, to love the Legend of Zelda iconography moreso than the games themselves. The concept and the story and the world moreso than the paces that I have to follow to see them and to complete the tasks. So much so that when I hear about a new Zelda game, I’m more excited to see what the design will be, how Link will look, and how gorgeous at least one of the areas will be than I am to actually get my hands on the game and play it. But this was such a rush to play through, and is still challenging on a different level than so many games are to this very day.