Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Top 10 NES Games

Note: I believe this list played a large part in my position as videogames editor being eliminated at GuySpeed. I wrote this list for the site, saved it and received this feedback from management:

Base Wars and Bayou Billy are extremely odd choices – and wouldn't be on most people's top 100 new game lists.  There's a lot of classic games (I.e. Punch Out, Contra, Metal Gear, Ghosts N Goblins, Metroid, Kid Icarus, River city Ransom, etc etc etc) that are hands down better than those 2 games.  We should also replace those 2 games, as well as Blades of Steel, with 3 games that are more universal favorites like the ones I mentioned above.
I refused to substitute the games -- this was my top 10 list, not one designed by committee -- instead offering to withdraw the post and deduct it from my invoice. Four hours later, I received an email telling me that my position had been eliminated (although I would still be allowed to cover E3 and submit posts for reduced pay) because there wasn't much interest in GuySpeed's videogame coverage. This was odd because I had recently been told to switch from doing news posts to top 10 lists for the same reason. This would have been my first top 10 to post at GuySpeed. Bayou Billy, I took one for you, sir:

If your childhood was anything like mine, the Nintendo Entertainment System was your babysitter, social conduit and cruel dominatrix. Its chiptune soundtracks, blocky-yet-beautiful graphics and uniformly evil difficulty level -- not to mention its wrist-ripping controller -- made it tough to go back to the likes of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong at the crusty, soon-to-be-extinct arcade.
There were so many brilliant, ground-breaking successes on the system that it would be easy to list my favorite 100 NES games. Here are the best of the best of the best.
10. Base Wars (Ultra, 1991) -- Baseball isn't such a slow-moving, leisurely sport when it's played by armed robots. Games were as much a war of attrition as they were about runs, because each play on the base paths was decided by one-on-one battles. You could customize your lineup with a mix of heavy bruisers, spry hoverbots and laser-cannoned snipers. There's no telling how many arm punches little brothers suffered from older siblings when they dared beaned the opponent's star batter, destroying him and forcing the game to end in forfeit.
9. Tetris (Nintendo, 1989) -- Forget Reagan and Gorbachev. This Russian import is what really ended the Cold War. The hypnotic, falling-blocks puzzle game set the standard for all others in the genre to strive for. If you didn't play this so much in your youth that when you closed your eyes you saw falling blocks, you aren't human. There have been countless Tetris updates since, but none feel quite as right as this one.
8. Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1986) -- Saving the princess was a rite of passage that proved you had come of age as a young man. Even if you couldn't beat level 8-4, you lied and said you could as you snuck up late at night, practicing, failing and smashing your controller in frustration. The game plays a little stiff now, but at the time of release there was nothing like it. Filled with secrets such as the Minus World, warp zones and hidden 1-up blocks, Super Mario Bros. was the gateway-drug game for every child of the1980s.
7. Blades of Steel (Konami, 1987) -- Another arm-puncher. The hockey sim's on-ice fights were the rough template for Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat. And it somehow made sense that the loser got sent to the penalty box. It was also totally mind-blowing how the electronic voice announced the title. It was a sign that you were about to entire the big-time.
6. Mega Man 3 (Capcom, 1990) -- The first two Mega Man releases were great, but the third outing was when the series hit perfection, nailing just the right balance of incredibly frustrating challenge, stunningly cartoonish graphics and jubilant boss fights. Finally managing to pummel those bastards Snake Man and Needle Man after hours of failure felt like great accomplishments.
5. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (Konami, 1990) -- There was something about NES-era threequels that allowed the developers to refine promising concepts into thriving perfection. That was the case with this hack-and-slash tangle with the creatures of the night. You could suit up as whip-wielding hero or one of his three pals as you set to take down Count Dracula. Branching paths with different endings made you want to play through again and again.
4. The Adventures of Bayou Billy (Konami, 1989) -- Playing as a Crocodile Dundee clone slugging his way through the Deep South to rescue his captured girlfriend, Bayou Billy evolved the brawler genre by changing up the gameplay. One level you'd be punching crocs in the face, the next you'd steer a Jeep through an obstacle course, lobbing grenades at choppers. Then you'd pull out the NES Zapper and do a drive-by on enemies who chucked stuff at you. And that ending was pure magic.
3. Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo, 1990) -- Here's the ultimate example of threequel perfection. The Mario formula shifted to an overworld navigation layout that added depth to the act of chugging through each world. In between levels, you could tangle with roaming Hammer Brothers or try a matching card games to stock your inventory with power-ups. You could save your progress and come back for more later, and there was even a head-to-head competitive multiplayer minigame to blow of steam. Just as Mario finally gained the ability to fly in the game, his series hit its loftiest heights.
2. Tecmo Super Bowl (Tecmo, 1991) -- We still prefer this game and its Super Nintendo remake to modern Maddens. The simplified football action may not have been realistic, but it's pad-popping, player-tumbling flourishes captured the spirit of the game better than anything not named NFL Blitz. There were eight plays the offense and defense could select, leading to pre-snap, rock-paper-scissors-like mindgames that were every bit as important as your reaction time and button-mashing ability on the field.
1. The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo, 1987) -- The cruelest of mistresses, the swords-and-sorcery exploration-fest tossed you into a brutal, monster-teeming open world with no direction or hand-holding. In the days before online walkthroughs existed, you had to rely on Nintendo Power walkthroughs and jungle gym secret swaps to make your way through the unforgiving fantasy realm. With its puzzles, items and upgrades, Zelda was the first action role-playing game in the lives of a generation of gamers.

1 comment:

Judicial said...

Anybody who doesn't like a Base Wars sucks at life.