This week, Nintendo releases the NES Classic Edition, a miniaturized version of the original Nintendo Entertainment System designed to appeal to those with a nostalgic longing for the games of the past — and maybe a few hardcore fans as well.
To that end, Nintendo is going all-out for the release, even going so far as to temporarily reinstate the Power Line used for tips so long ago for a three day period, as well as turning the clock back on their social media accounts to something more retro, and even hosting an 80’s themed party at the Nintendo NY store at Rockefeller Plaza on the night of November 10th (that I really wish I could go to). On the more tangible side of things, in addition to the unit itself, they’re releasing a book called Playing With Power: Nintendo NES Classics, which covers 17 of the included games (likely just the first-party stuff) with maps, art, and extras, including Nintendo Power excerpts!
Of course, the main attraction is the unit itself. It comes with one NES Classic controller which can be used with the system, or plugged into a Wii Remote for use with the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console (and apparently some other games, too), and 30 pre-loaded NES games — no adding or changing anything here.
What follows are my brief thoughts on each release included in this package, which will hopefully not be too hard to get (not that it will stop me from trying, even if there is no Urban Champion). Plus, for those less-familiar, each entry is accompanied by a video of gameplay footage from the YouTube channel NESGuide.
For me, this is starting off strong. Of all the earliest titles in the NES library, at least among those predating Super Mario Bros. and representing the more oldschool arcade style of gaming, I think this one is my favorite (don’t forget, I even cosplayed as Balloon Fighter in honor of Iwata at Otakon last year). The standard mode borrows from Midway’s Joust, to the point many call it a rip-off, but it plays far more smoothly and intuitively than their ostrich-riding clash. Plus, there’s a second mode (third if you count 2-Player) which acts as something of a side-scroller with quite catchy music — almost iconic, even.
Taito’s arcade classic is 100 levels of fun in which you and a friend encase enemies in bubbles and pop them to proceed. And I do mean “and a friend,” because if you try to solo this one, you’re going to have a Bad
Konami’s classic that launched a franchise which lasted 42 games and nearly two decades before things turned kind of ugly. I’ve got a nostalgic soft spot for this one, the first in the series I ever experienced (upon my parents deciding to rent it), even though I’ve never come close to beating it. This thing is tough, but the graphics, sound, and atmosphere are enough to keep me coming back every now and again.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest
The sequel, on the other hand, gets way too much undeserved hate. Well, maybe not undeserved, but I do feel it’s overstated. Breaking out from its predecessor’s linear boundaries, Simon’s Quest effectively set the stage for many future games in the series, such as Symphony of the Night. While I’ll admit that it’s a bit vague and obtuse at times, and yes, villagers even outright lie to you at times (by design, not mistranslation), but if you have a guide or just manage to figure it out, I’ve found it’s a rewarding title to come back to. Heck, it’s even my favorite of the NES trilogy, and one of my favorites in the series!
For all intents and purposes, this is the arcade game which launched Nintendo as a video game giant. Unfortunately, in being ported to the NES, several animations were cut, as well as an entire level — which, considering there were only four, meant that an entire quarter of the game was cut out! Nintendo did restore some of these in a special version of Donkey Kong on various Virtual Consoles around the world that never saw widespread release (it was strictly promotional), but I’ve seen nothing to indicate that this is that version.
While the colors here are better, I’d say that the eventual Game Boy remake is the superior way to play, without question, unless you have a specific affinity for the more difficult gameplay of the arcade/NES version.
Donkey Kong Jr.
Is Jr. the Donkey Kong we play as in Donkey Kong Country? I prefer to think so, in part because it gives the character even more of a legacy. That aside, this sequel to Donkey Kong positions Mario as the bad guy who has taken the original DK captive. As DK Jr., it’s up to you to not only jump but climb your way to free papa! Many don’t hold it in as high a regard as the original, but I think I actually like it just a little better.
Double Dragon II: The Revenge
“For might! For right! We are Double Dragon!” Brothers
Bimmy Billy and Jimmy Lee are out to avenge the death of Marion in this classic side-scrolling brawler. Why the sequel, and not the original? Well, the original was changed quite a bit from the arcade version, and while still a good game, one of those changes rubbed people the wrong way — no 2-Player mode! (Well, there was, but it was a Versus mode — not quite the same thing.) For many, The Revenge holds up as the arrival of true Double Dragon action on the NES.
Guess that for whatever reason, Nintendo isn’t doing business with The Tetris Company at the moment. As great a shame as that is, Dr. Mario is still a great substitution. If nothing else, you at least get some head-to-head action, which their home version of Tetris lacked.
Combining racing and side-scrolling, this title is an oldie but a goodie. In fact, we haven’t seen much from the Excite franchise since Excite Truck and Excitebots on the Wii, along with Excitebike World Rally on WiiWare. And while the latter is a superior update to the original, this one is still worth checking out — if only so you can see how many giant bumps you can string together in the game’s track editor.
I’ve made my feelings on Final Fantasy clear in the past, and while I’ll admit that I’m intrigued enough by Final Fantasy XV to try it, I doubt I’ll give this game a second glance. I mean, if I didn’t care for the more refined sequels, I can’t imagine myself caring much for the original. At least, unless they do a remake based on 8-Bit Theater — I might play the hell out of that.
My wife, on the other hand, will gladly be playing this one. Mind, she’s never beaten it before, so it’s more a matter of pride.
Truth be told, I’m not sure if the above video is the same game as what’s included here. Probably not, but it was all NESGuide had for Galaga. Suffice to say, the real one probably isn’t too far off.
Anywho, this Space Invaders-esque shooter brought with it a unique hook: By allowing the UFO to capture your ship and freeing it with your reserve, you could double your firepower against the oncoming hordes of space insects! Of course, power comes with a price — a double-sized hit box, in this case — lending the game a bit of a strategic element.
I don’t think I ever played this port of Capcom’s arcade classic, but I’ve not heard good things. For me, Ghosts’N Goblins is a tough sell because not only is it a tough-as-nails platformer to begin with, but you’re also expected to beat it twice in a row! I don’t think my doctor would be too happy with me doing that to my blood pressure, so I’ll stick to its spiritual successor, Maximo vs. Army of Zin, instead.
Where Galaga has the top-down shooter locked down, this is Konami’s side-scrolling entry into the genre. Outfit your starfighter, the Vic Viper, with a variety of weapons as you journey through an ever-changing spacescape of weird creatures and Moai heads to protect the Earth. Good stuff… hard stuff, but good stuff.
This is definitely one of those “want to love it, but” games. I love the setting, the characters, the music… it’s really good stuff. Unfortunately, as a platforming game goes, the controls kind of kill it. You’re so often sent bouncing off walls and falling through floors that death is inevitable for all but those who have completely mastered the game (do such people exist?). Nintendo keeps wheeling this one out time and again, but have yet to remake it. I keep hoping that someday, Nintendo does for Ice Climber what they did for Donkey Kong or Kid Icarus.
Speaking of which, the sister series to Metroid kicks off here with a title reeking of Nintendo charm as Pit, leader of the goddess Palutena’s guard, must fight his way from the depths of the underworld to the surface and finally to Skyworld so he can put an end to Medusa’s reign of terror. Interestingly enough, this game features something of a reverse difficulty curve — it starts off fairly brutal, but gets easier as you go.
Kirby’s second outing, following his debut in Kirby’s Dream Land for the Game Boy, remains a classic to this day. This adventure marks the first appearance of Kirby’s now-trademark ability to gain new abilities by inhaling enemies. It’s a little on the easier side, and that’s by design — it’s meant to be a platformer for beginning gamers. Even so, it’s not without some challenge, and while HAL Labs would refine the Kirby formula time and again over the many years to come, you can’t go wrong with this one.
Before Mario and Luigi were Super, they were simply the Mario Bros. This marks their origin as plumbers as they fight off Shellcreepers, Fighter Flies, Sidesteppers, and more in a New York sewer. Players can cooperate to complete the levels or compete for the most points by knocking the opposing sibling into the way of oncoming creatures. Personally, I’ve longed for the arcade version to be brought home, as I enjoy the pixel art and animations more there (and I think the controls even feel a little tighter), but since that’s probably never happening, this is as good a substitute as you’re likely to find — well, save for the version that was included in the Super Mario Advance games.
Mega Man 2
Fans of the Blue Bomber are forever doomed to argue whether this or Mega Man 3 is the best game in what is affectionately known as the Classic series, but since Capcom elected to base Mega Man 9 and 10 on this entry (to say nothing of its sole inclusion here), it’s clear what Capcom’s stance is. Of course, as the best-selling titles in the franchise, it’s easy to see why they might feel that way — as well as why its inclusion also supersedes the rougher and tougher original game.
This is where it all began for the space hunter (not a bounty hunter, apparently) named Samus Aran. Emerging deep beneath the surface of the living planet fortress Zebes and armed with nothing but a short-range beam cannon, it’s up to you (as Samus, of course) to find and equip the weapons left behind by an ancient civilization to combat the Space Pirate menace and end the threat of the titular Metroids.
The original Metroid is quite challenging compared to some titles to come in the series, including its own remake, Metroid: Zero Mission. Still, it’s fun to see where it all began and how you fare in the maze-like corridors which weave their way throughout the game — though you may want to find a map to bring, because the game does not provide one for you. Fortunately, Restore Points ought to negate ever having to deal with the password screen for anything more than entering the Justin Bailey code — as well as the game’s most frustrating habit, starting you off with only 30 hit points upon a restart, no matter how many you’ve acquired over the course of your journey.
Of the games which embody “NES Hard,” this is perhaps my favorite. Ninja Gaiden is effectively a faster, more agile version of Castlevania that uses ninjas and demons instead of vampire hunters and monsters, and utilizes then-innovative “cinema scenes” to tell a pretty cool story, too. While the new Ninja Gaiden is neat and all, I would love to see a return to the original sidescrolling series and hero Ryu’s blue hues — perhaps given a similar treatment as Konami gave Castlevania with Symphony of the Night. Until then, this is a great game with a fantastic soundtrack to have on hand, and those Restore Points will definitely come in handy!
There were two versions of Pac-Man released for the Nintendo Entertainment System back in the day: One by third-party licensee Tengen, who had quite a sordid history with Nintendo, and a later version by Namco themselves. The video above is the only one here not from NESGuide, used here to show the latter version of the game which — as far as I know — didn’t receive a lot of attention, as it was nearly identical to Tengen’s release and came years later. While the game is a bona fide classic and it’s hard to argue its inclusion, some might prefer the sequel Ms. Pac-Man, whose Tengen and Namco releases on the platform sported more differences.
Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream
Sadly, if you want Mike Tyson, you’ll have to keep tuning in to Adult Swim to watch him solve mysteries, Scooby-Doo-style. But if you’re down to throw down with Glass Joe, Super Macho Man, King Hippo, Von Kaiser, and the rest as the diminutive Little Mac, then step right up and ring the bell! Despite the boxing premise, it’s been described as less a sports game and more a puzzle game, maybe with a little bit of simple rhythm based gameplay at points. Either way, it’s one of the more iconic titles to be associated with the system in the 80s, at least in North America.
Oh man, StarTropics. There is so much I love about this game: The graphics, the music, the characters, the setting, the story… I first got to play it on the Wii Virtual Console, but I never got to finish it, because it’s also pretty tough and unforgiving, to the point of being just plain unfair at points! Fortunately, the NES Classic Edition’s Restore Points should help mitigate that aspect a bit with the Restore Points, which I expect to make good use of. I actually upgraded my Wii release to the Wii U when that came out, but I didn’t get around to playing it before this was announced, and now I’m waiting to play it here.
This is an oft overlooked, underrated gem of the NES library that I’m honestly thrilled to see make it into this collection. I hope more people will give it a chance, and maybe — with any luck — it might pick up enough momentum for Nintendo to look at a revival (or a Super Smash Bros. trophy, at least!).
As I’ve noted previously, I’m a big fan of Super C (aka Super Contra in the arcades). However, I’ve sworn not to buy this game under the current circumstances on Virtual Console.
Why? Because Konami has released Super C and Contra III: The Alien Wars (in several different versions, no less), yet for reasons unknown to pretty much everyone, they’ve refused to release the iconic original Contra*. So I’ve withheld my purchase all these years until I could easily and conveniently marathon all three of the original games in this series I do so very much love.
Well, they’ve done it again. Once more, Super C without the original Contra. I’ll bet the inclusion of the original might even have swayed some who wouldn’t otherwise buy it, but nope — once again, we just get the sequel.
And I’m going to play the hell out of it. I mean, if it’s already there with everything else in this package, I might as well, right? Konami’s getting their cut of this package whether I play it or not, so the only thing principle is going to do is make me suffer, not them.
Sigh, well played, Konami. Well played. Now do me a favor and go sit on a scorpion while a mad dog gnaws at your leg.
* Never mind Contra: Hard Corps for the SEGA Genesis — don’t get me started on that and Castlevania: Bloodlines.
Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros. 2
Anyone who knows me knows that my love for this game runs deep, and any time I’m going to talk about my favorite games, Mario or otherwise, this one is going to be a part of the conversation, “real” sequel discussions be damned. And really, the more new Mario games come out, the more this one shines, thanks to its unique story, setting, cast, and play mechanics. Really, Super Mario Bros. 2 is long, long overdue for a sequel (in terms of gameplay), and folks at Nintendo know this through various interviews over the years. Here’s hoping something gets done.
In the meantime, I can still happily play this one over and over and over again.
Super Mario Bros. 3
While I was extremely hyped for Super Mario Bros. 2 (as was the rest of North America), I think Super Mario Bros. 3 managed to kick the hype machine into overdrive. There was the commercial, which didn’t even show any gameplay footage — no, if you wanted that, you should have gone to see The Wizard, which had been released in theaters a couple of months prior.
But did it live up to the hype? Well, it’s frequently hailed as one of the greatest video games of all time, so you tell me.
It’s no secret that I’m not much of a football fan. That said, I’ve got something of a soft spot for Tecmo Bowl, and I don’t even know why. Reputation, I suppose, coupled with Electronic Arts’ virtual monopolization of the sport in video games by way of their monopolization of the NFL franchise and the so-realistic sim nature of the fruits of those efforts… I just like the sound of something simpler and a little more arcadey. I hear Tecmo Super Bowl — which the aforementioned monopolization likely prevented from being included here instead — is the better game, but I’m probably going to try this one out at some point.
I mean, football is sort of like a game, right?
The Legend of Zelda
Pretty much all I have to say about this can be found here. For me, this is the standard against which all other “mainline” Zelda games (i.e. Hyrule Warriors and Four Swords are exempt) are measured. For Nintendo, this was the source of inspiration for the next entry in the series, Breath of the Wild. While there have been many Links over the years, this is the one I feel is “mine.”
It’s not especially easy, though I don’t have too much trouble with it these days. But the freedom and sense of accomplishment is just so, so very satisfying.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
The 80’s was a fascinating time for video game sequels, as there seemed to be a greater willingness to change things up from their predecessors. Mario went from stomping foes to hurling giant vegetables at them; Simon Belmont’s quest took him beyond the confines of Castlevania and into the greater Transylvanian countryside; the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles went from platforming to brawling; and Link would go from top-down to sidescrolling.
While enormously popular and highly sought after upon its release, Zelda II has become the black sheep of the family over the years. Me, I still love it. I love it more now than I did then, in fact, and desperately wish that — like Super Mario Bros. 2 — Nintendo would create some sort of spiritual sequel to this title (heck, put someone else in there. Pit from Kid Icarus could do it justice, I’ll bet). To me, Skyward Sword felt like sort of a throwback to this game, with its focus on exploitative swordplay, which was a core element of combat in this game.
I won’t lie; this game is another “NES Hard” title, particularly if you’re not as familiar with it as someone like myself (and even I have trouble in the Great Palace at the end). It has issues you wouldn’t dare see in many games today, such as experience points lost upon a Game Over, scant few 1UPs that are one-time use only (and cannot be saved, effectively wasting them), and being sent all the way back to the starting point on the map when you lose all your lives, thus forcing you to retrace your steps to wherever you were (save for at the aforementioned Great Palace).
Fortunately, these are all issues that are easily mitigated by the Restore Points the system allows you to create. Use them wisely, and Zelda II: The Adventure of Link should prove to be a standout experience among the NES Classic Edition library, and even among other Zelda titles.
And that does it! 30 thoughts on 30 games (and way more words than I ever expected this to be). I’m not even sure how I’ll tackle these — maybe I’ll go down the list in order, or maybe I’ll just play whatever suits my fancy at any given time. Or just sample a bit here and there from all over the place before committing to anything. All prospects are appealing here.
Almost as appealing as the thought of second NES Classic Edition based on the NES-101, or a Super NES Classic Edition, or… well, the sky is the limit now, isn’t it?
David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you’re interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.