So I’ve switched over to NES Gaming mode for a while. As promised earlier, here are some opinions on the games included on the Nes Classic Mini. Or half of them, at least, the rest to follow later.
I’m keeping it fairly brief because 1: I haven’t forgotten this is meant to be a PC gaming site, 2: the internet doesn’t need me spilling 2000 words on a game as universally well known as Super Mario Brothers and 3: I’ve not actually played them all.
For comparative purposes I’ve put the year of release in Japan next to each game. Many NES games were reelased several months later in the US, and then took another year or two to reach Europe. Which may explain why some kids here were happier to stick to gaming on their Amiga 500s.
Donkey Kong – 1983
Mario’s first outing. A very typical early game – each level consists of one screen, on a black background. There are just four levels that repeat with increasing difficulty. Honestly I doubt I’ll ever play it for more than 10 minutes at a time. Still, correctly timing your jumps over those barrels is still quite satisfying. Also, if you’re at all interested in the history of gaming you really should play it at least once.
Donkey King Junior
It’s Mario’s one appearance as villain, with the younger Kong out to rescue his father. You climb vines, avoid enemies or defeat them by knocking fruit down at them. A cute little game I guess but again, it’s really the later and more expansive titles that give the Classic any sort of long term appearl.
Mario Brothers -1983
First game with Mario’s name on it, but before he went Super. Jump into the floor under baddies to incapacitate them, then run over and boot them. Don’t try jumping on their heads before they’re stunned. The wife and I played this for about 5 minutes then decided we were bored. Anyway you’ll encounter it as a minigame (with better graphics and music) if you play Super Mario Brothers 3 multiplayer.
This is sounding a bit unenthusiastic so far, isn’t it? That’s mostly because I’ve mentioned three very early games in a row. Don’t fear, there are positive opinions on the way!
Super Mario Brothers – 1985
You may have heard of this? It properly launched Mario’s career as gaming icon. It also featured side-scrolling levels, a major technical advancement over the ones built of single screen portions. SMB wasn’t the first scroller, but it certainly helped establish the feature as a standard in platform games.
The sequels were bigger and better, but this was a big improvement over non-super mario. I consider it one of the earliest platformers that I still find genuinely enjoyable today. It’s definitely worth revisiting for a few tries. Go kick some koopas, jump for that flag, listen to the classic theme. Here it is being sung by some wrestler dressed as Mario.
You’re welcome. I don’t know if the Super Mario Super Show ever made it to these shores, but I recall watching it daily in America around 1989.
Super Mario Brothers 2 – 1988 (US)
The original Japanese sequel to SMB was a very similar game with fiendishly hard levels, and apparently Nintendo thought it wouldn’t sell well to clumsy, decadent westerners. So instead they took some totally unrelated game (Doki Doki panic) and slapped Mario and friends on it.
That’s why we ended up with a slightly odd entry in the series. There’s no block-bashing, and if you jump on an enemies head you just ride along on top of them. To defeat them you must either pelt them with vegetables, or throw them at each other. Although in later games Mario could grab onto enemies after stomping them, the specific throwing and turnip-picking mechanics used here never returned. Also cast of enemies has only shown up in a handful of later games.
On the other hand it still looks good and there are four playable characters each with their own strengths, something Nintendo really should have revisited sooner. My wife’s a fan and, honestly I’d take this over hard-mode SMB1.
Super Mario Brothers 3 – 1988
Politely stepping around SMB2’s vegetable throwing, this is a logical evolution of the original Super Mario, bigger and improved in every way. Levels are cleverly designed and grouped into different worlds, each with an appealing visual theme. Map screens give you some choice of what level to tackle next. A bunch of new powerups are included, most importantly the racoon tail granting you the power of flight, and with it greater ability to explore the levels. Minigames provide a quick diversion in between the main levels.
If you want a criticism for balance then, well, Mario’s movement is annoyingly slippery. Which makes levels of narrow platforms and big pits rather daunting. Still, this was one of the greatest triumphs of the NES, and possibly the peak of 8-bit platform games. (well possibly until kirby showed up late to the party, see below)
Gradius – 1986
Side scrolling shoot ‘em up. I was more a fan of R-Type, which I used to play on an Atari ST (Rik may approve). I’m really dreadful at these in general.
Balloon Fight – 1985
Apparently rips off Joust. Except my childhood memories are of this one, so it gets my loyalty. You control a little guy floating from balloons, tackling enemies that are similarly equipped. you must hit them from above to pop their balloons, at which point they either fall into water, or onto land. In the latter case you have to stomp them before they re-inflate their balloons.
This is another of the one-screen early games – I’ve been a bit dismissive about some of them, but I do have a certain wistful appreciation for Balloon Fight. Maybe it’s simple nostalgia. Or maybe because its mechanics are something a little different. Unless you played Joust.
Galaga – 1985
A direct descendent of Space Invaders, the main development being more complex patterns of movement for the aliens.
As much as we like to be seen here as grizzled veterans of gaming, this sort of thing is too old to be of real interest to me. It’s a conversion of an arcade game that came out four years earlier, when I was an infant. Still good to have in the collection, just for the historical value.
Dr Mario – 1990
Segmented, multi-coloured pills fall into a space containing several germs. If you create lines of the same colour pill section, they disappear. If a germ of that colour is part of the line, it disappears too.
I assume Nintendo wanted a first-party Tetris. Dr Mario is more fiddly but since Actual Tetris isn’t here, this one goes some way towards filling the action-puzzle space.
Kid Icarus – 1986
I remember Icarus showing up in the Captain N cartoon which starred a bunch of second-tier Nintendo mascots, since Mario and Link had their own shows. Not played his game though!
Tecmo Bowl – 1989
Can’t comment on this. I know virtually nothing about American Football, beyond what my brother in law has patiently tried to explain to me. Very large men run at each other, make a big pile and throw a ball a bit, one big chap runs with it until another very large man stops him. Then the referee blows a whistle? Then it starts again.
I’m not meaning to pick on American sports here. Sport in general baffles me.
Final Fantasy – 1987
To date I’ve played two of this series, VI and VII. Oh, and Chrono Trigger, that’s at least from Square too. Not a wide sampling but enough to at least give me an appreciation for the Japanese way of doing RPGs. More focus on characters and narrative than customising and developing your hero’s attributes. A more linear path instead through the game instead leaving you to roam and explore. Better hair.
One day I’d like to play more of the series, unfortunately barring long-term unemployment I have no idea when i’ll find time. Still now at least I can go see where it all started; I’m curious to see how much had changed by the 16 bit days.
Excite Bike – 1984
Side scroller where you attempt various jumps on a dirtbike. Getting it right is not just about building up speed, but also orienting yourself correctly for landing. Unfortunately this is probably another example of 10-mins and done.
Double Dragon II: The Revenge 1989
Two denim wearing martial artists tackle gang crime by dealing out some street justice, by single handedly beating every last hoodlum into unconsciousness. It’s a scenario very much with its roots in the 80s, and one that drove the majority of Beat Em Ups that weren’t Golden Axe. Back then we were routinely marching down trash-strewn streets, karate-kicking ruffians in the junk then piledriving them into the pavement. Should I feel uncomfortable with this sort of treatment of people driven into a life of crime by economic inequality, and lack of opportunity?
(I probably won’t)
Anyway, this inevitably feels a bit primitive next to the 16-bit greats of the genre. For a point of interest though, the controls are a little different: A strikes left, B right and it’s a punch or kick depending on whether or not you’re facing that way.
Kirby’s Adventure – 1993
I hadn’t realised this game came out so late; it was the last triumph of an antiquated console at a time when 16 machines ruled. Hell, the Playstation was less than 3 years after this.
I’m not greatly familiar with it, beyond short sections played as part of Nes Remix, but I hope to make time for it in the near future. The artwork is a brave effort to be as close to the SNES as those old 8-bit chips could manage. The gameplay benefits from a number of clever features – Kirby can inflate himself to float, and can suck in enemies and copy their powers. From what I’ve seen so far, it appears charming and inventive.