Sunday, August 15, 2010

My Five Favorite NES Games

Due to personal circumstances, I may be the only dude in the geek universe who didn’t get to see Scott Pilgrim vs. The World this weekend, but I’m super-psyched to get to the theater hopefully next weekend. So as not to feel completely left out, however, I thought I’d bust out a list of my five all-time favorite video games for the original Nintendo Entertainment System, many of which influenced big chunks of both the Scott Pilgrim series and film.

I was the kid who was always about a generation behind when it came to video games. When everybody else had an NES, I had an Atari; when I got my NES, other folks had moved onto Genesis or Super Nintendo; I finally got an N64 in like 2003 when my buddy Matt got bored with his and let me take it to college. None of this ever really bothered me, though, as I had plenty of friends who had the latest goods and it was fun to head over to their houses and check out the latest (even though it always sucked when their moms would yell at us to get some fresh air).

By the early-90’s when I did pick up my first NES, I already had a bunch of titles I wanted to grab myself or borrow from pals. Later on, in college, my main man Jordan brought his system to school our sophomore year when we were (practically) neighbors and he had about a zillion games, so that was a whole new renaissance. From both those eras of Ben’s gaming, here are the five elite jams (and my memory is crap, so as soon as I publish this I’ll remember a dozen others I loved; I’m already wondering if I should have included Nintendo Golf, Double Dragon, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six…).

This was a crazy little game I used to play with my little sister in one of our major sibling bonding experiences of our early years.

You and whoever you played with (it was definitely way better as a two-player game) were two little dinosaurs who could blow bubbles (hence the name) and then use your noggins to move said bubbles around or pop them, solving puzzles and defeating bad guys. There were hundreds of levels to wade through and tons of neat variations that made for a fun lengthy gaming experience and a swell way to kill an afternoon.

There’s no way you can chalk up the weirdness of the Mario Brothers franchise to just Japanese culture or whatever. Super-powered plumbers in a land of evil turtles who get special powers from mushrooms and flowers? I’m sorry, but there’s definitely more than meets the eye to all that, and some day I hope there’s a tell-all on where the heck it came from.

But regardless, pretty much every game in the series from the 80’s to today is a winner and great fun to play. Especially in the early games—the even-weirder-than-usual second one aside—there was a pretty consistent formula of straight ahead challenges and kinetic fun that carries through to the most recent installments.

Super Mario Brothers 3 is the one I most fondly remember with crazy stuff like the raccoon suit and the sprawling level maps; definitely a prototype of many great games to come.

Years later, I’d whittle away countless hours of my life playing A Link to the Past in my friend Matt’s basement for Super Nintendo, but Adventure of Link was the first Zelda game I really dug and one I’d rediscover years later as a college student.

Most Zelda games appeal to my love of mythology and appreciation for puzzles and other challenges that made you think beyond just jumping on mushrooms or punching bad guys. I never really appreciated the first Zelda because the bird’s eye view was a bigger knock for me than it probably should have been, but this one was mostly side-scroller, so I was all good. I also really liked being able to upgrade my different attributes as Link by beating different levels, something that wasn’t commonplace in games back then.

The other cool thing about Adventure of Link was that I turned out to be insanely good at it when Jordan and I popped it in, so I earned my amigo’s respect.

Football has always been one sport I really enjoy watching and part of me would have loved to have played, but I was both too scrawny and pretty terrible at it, so instead I ended up a wrestler since there you’re always up against guys your own size no matter how tiny you are.

However, football video games have always been the refuge of “love-but-can’t-play” types such as myself, and Tecmo Super Bowl (not just Tecmo Bowl, there’s a difference) remains for me the bar by which all others are judged.

Even back in 1991, most football games were already starting to adopt the QB’s eye view look, but as an avid side-scroller man, I appreciated Tecmo stacking the linebackers on top of one another and keeping it looking like Mario playing football. It certainly made it easier for me to perfect my “run all the way back out of the Shotgun and throw a Hail Mary” strategy as Jim Kelly that I still use to this day playing Madden. TSB allowed crazy junk like that as well as 50-yard field goals and more.

TSB was also one of the very first game to actually work with the NFL to license team and player names, so you didn’t have to ID your guys by just numbers and suffer through generic colors to label your squad. It also made it much more satisfying when you could knock Phil Simms out of action on a nasty blitz. The regular season mode was ahead of its time and you could also pull lopsided trades to create dream teams and enjoy awesome cut scenes whenever you notched a touchdown.

I had the sort of bizarre relationship with Mega Man 3 only a 9-year-old with the beginnings of future anxiety disorders can have with a video game.

It was prominently displayed for months at Wellesley Video (my local video store pre-Blockbuster Invasion) and I wanted to play it in the worst way, but I didn’t have a Nintendo at the time. When we finally got an NES, my parents got me Mega Man 3 as a Christmas present (I think) and for some reason I got really scared and didn’t want to take it out of the package. So it sat in my attic or something for weeks and we ended up giving it away to one of my cousins or something—to this day I have no idea when 9-year-old me was thinking or why this went down the way it did, but oh well.

Down the line, I ended up renting the game, as despite the weird trauma, it remained my holy grail of gaming (clearly my parents were very patient people). I spent hours navigating its extremely tricky challenges and somewhat sluggish controls (man jumping was hard), but it was super-rewarding when I finally got the hand and started taking out Robot Masters.

Years later, Jordan and I would go nuts trying to blast our way through the entire Mega Man series anew, and again I remember the third game, with the debut of Rush and Proto-Man, plus some truly great bosses like Spark Man, Gemini Man and of course Hard Man, standing out.

Even though it could be frustrating as hell, I definitely dug on the fact that Mega Man was more difficult to win than a lot of other NES games of the time. I was also grateful that it was among the first to have a password function—basically the first iteration of a save feature—so you didn’t need to beat it all in one sitting (which would have been nigh impossible, but most early video games did indeed demand just that). I also loved the cartoonish yet cool look of the characters—very comic book-y and indeed very Scott Pilgrim these days—as well as there being a back story I could latch onto with Dr. Light, Dr. Wily, the mysterious relationship between Mega and Proto, et al.

So it took a bit of a lengthy and strange path to find its way to me, but I would say Mega Man 3 is probably my favorite NES game of all-time.


TJ Dietsch said...

No mention of our epic Techmo Bowl games circa 2005? I'm wounded. Bubble Bobbles super legit. I should see if it's on the Wii store because that game was like crack and I need a new addiction.

Ben Morse said...

I didn't want to open old wounds for you.

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