Well since my previous post visiting the Atari era of games was so popular, I figured I’d jump right into a part 2 with the NES era. As with my prior installment I want this to focus on the more forgotten games. Sure, Super Mario Bros and Tetris will always be remembered, but they will stand the test of time. Some of these others were decent games that weren’t of a huge franchise, but have all been somewhat forgotten.
If you have any you think should be added, feel free to comment or start a discussion below on which brought the best or worst memories for you.
20 – NARC (1988) – I first played this in the arcade and remember losing plenty of quarters to it, but something about a more realistic (in the sense of blood) game at the time, it was appealing. You were a cop on a mission. That mission? Well, you weren’t really undercover like a real NARC would be, so you just wiped out waves of bad guys to get to the drug dealer boss at the end. It was a run and gun style game, but you could team up with a friend for some great co-op action. Just don’t run out of lives.
19 – Xenophobe (1987) – To say this isn’t a rip off of the Alien movie franchise would be a lie, because the aliens are very similar in many ways, but the story is quite different. It’s not locked solely in space, so whether in a base, in a city or elsewhere, you could grab two of your closest friends and eradicate the “Xenos”. My issue was the timed aspect. Each level had to be done before the timer ran out. I’m not a fan of being pressured to complete video game objectives in a certain amount of time.
18- Lemmings (1991) – These pesky little guys/girls who keep walking, until they reach their goal or perish, quickly became a fascination of mine. Using ladders, ramps, bombs and other tools I could make them reach their goal safely. In return I’d get to advance another level with them as the difficulty increased each time. The two player angle wasn’t as good as playing alone because the split screen just took attention away from the solo player’s task. This game spawned two spinoffs as well as the sequels: “Lemmings 2: The Tribes,” “All New World Of Lemmings,” “3D Lemmings,” and “Lemmings Revolution.”
17 – Jackal (1988) – The concept was simple. You (and a friend if you want) are dropped off in the middle of enemy territory with a jeep. You must drive, shoot, and avoid deadly enemy fire in order to rescue the POWs and save the day. Okay maybe the concept was pretty unrealistic as no one (not even Rambo) could do all that, but it made for a very entertaining albeit challenging game.
16 – The Adventures of Bayou Billy (1989) – It may look like Crocodile Dundee, but instead it’s Billy West (no, not the same Billy West involved with Futurama). Billy West is a vigilante bent on taking down the crime lord in the swamps of the south. What was great about this game wasn’t just the impossible side scrolling brawler that it was, but there were two levels where the light gun came into play. If you didn’t have the light gun you could always use the controller to control the crosshairs, but it was much more fun with the pinging of the light gun’s trigger. There were also levels where you drove a vehicle giving it a wide variety in type of play. This game easily got shadowed by it’s more popular competition like Double Dragon, but it’s still a fond memory and actually had more to it.
15 – Bubble Bobble (1986) – Bub and Bob have been turned into bubble dragons and must traverse 100 levels of cave monsters in order to reach their girlfriends who have been kidnapped. Who caused all of this? Baron Von Blubba. All you had to do was use your bubble blowing skills to entrap an enemy and pop the bubble to eliminate them. It also featured multiple endings, but the true good ending you could only get if you played co-op. I’d list the 20 sequels that were made plus the spinoff, but that’d take up half this page. Just know it was good enough to have some sort of ongoing legacy all thanks to the original that we may have all forgotten.
14 – Operation Wolf (1987) – A shooting game using the light gun. It was one of the first arcade like shooters that put you in a first person view as you run through a concentration camp to rescue hostages. It was a scroller, so while you didn’t physically move your character, the screen did that part for you. All you had to do was point and shoot. If I recall correctly there is more than one ending depending on how many hostages you successfully rescue. It had three sequels: “Operation Thunderbolt,” “Operation Wolf 3”, and “Operation Tiger.”
13 – Dragon Warrior (1986) – This was really the first great RPG style game. Known as Dragon Quest around the world, it has had several spinoffs, sequels, cartoons and other media interpretations under the Quest name. But Dragon Warrior is a forgotten title by many. It gave a close up view of the enemy you were fighting, making you feel as if you were in the game. That first person fighting perspective combined with an overhead map to traverse and strategy of leveling up and equipping your characters is what made this game so well rounded and a series which is relevant in gaming today.
12 – Marble Madness (1984) – Okay, so technically I first played this game on Atari, but it was the NES version that had more levels, better controls and graphics, and was all around just better. It was very nerve wracking however, and your patience would be tested as you guided your marble ball through the obstacle courses within a certain amount of time. It not only looked 3 dimensional for the time, but actually used physics that were very close to how a ball would roll on such a course. A sequel was planned but eventually scrapped because other similar games were inspired by this stand alone game.
11. Battletoads (1991) – These guys were basically the Ninja Turtles but toads and with different villains. It might have been a rip off in a way, but it was still lots of fun. Its sequels continued to be pretty decent too (except for Battletoads/Double Dragon, which was really a selling gimmick because the game was terrible). I vaguely remember an animated series that had to be as bad as Captain N the Gamemaster, because the existence of it is very faint in my mind. Still, despite them not being as cool or well received as the TMNT, the first game was a great coop beat-em-up.
10 – Arkanoid (1986) – I really don’t know what it was about this game that I loved so much. I do still enjoy it today, don’t get me wrong, but the concept is so simple there’s not much to it. You take the game Pong, turn it vertical and bounce a ball into blocks until there are no blocks remaining. Occasionally a powerup dropped and you could multiply how many balls were on screen or even shoot bullets to help you out. Just don’t pick up the power down that will shrink your paddle. The sequels “Arkanoid Revenge of Doh,” “Arkanoid Doh it Again,” and “Arkanoid Returns” were the main sequels with many breakout like knock offs trying to replicate the awesomeness of this one. There was even an Arkanoid Space Invaders crossover game made.
9 – Commando (1985) – Not to be confused with the film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, its concept was similar. You’re a lone soldier facing ridiculous odds to rescue POWs and defeat the evil army forces. Now here’s the interesting thing that I didn’t realize until now… It had its sequels “Mercs” and “Commando 3: Wolf Of the Battlefield,” but “Bionic Commando” and its two sequels are also part of the franchise. They get a bit more sci-fi as the main hero has been injured and gains bionic parts, but the fact that they are all intertwined makes me like this game even more. Commando is one of my favorites from that era.
8 – Kung Fu (1984) – The main character is directly based on a character Jackie Chan played, but has no relation to that continuity. It was a side scrolling punch and kick game with no fore or background movement. You just had to fight to survive and make it past a ridiculous amount of enemies who didn’t fight very well at all. “Kung Fu Master,” “Kung Fu Master 2” and “Vigilante” are all follow ups to this original game (which in Japan was called Kung Fu Master). I was determined to beat the bosses in each level, but I’m not sure I made it past level 4. Still, it provided hours of entertainment.
7 – Kid Icarus (1987) – Greek Mythology tales were some of my early favorite stories, so Kid Icarus hit the spot for me. I remember flying up and up as my bow and arrow eliminated other mythological beasts and traversed the underworld, Earth, and Olympus to face off against Medusa and others. “Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters,” and “Kid Icarus Uprising” were its sequels, but neither look to be as great as this one was memorable for me.
6 – 1942 (1986) – Being a pilot during 1942 over the Pacific would not be something I imagine an easy task, but the game made it lots of fun. The powerups were great as you fought waves of enemies to reach the end of each level and eventually win the war. It was followed by “1943: The Battle Of Midway,” “1944: The Loop Master,” “19XX: The War Against Destiny,” and a prequel “1941: Counter Attack.” They are timeless games that we’ve seen tons of similar styles pay homage to over the years. I’ll never get tired of these an playing it with a friend was even stimulating.
5 – Spy Hunter (1983) – I realize this was out in arcades and for the Atari for a few years before NES came along, but it was the NES version that was the big hit for me. I always loved racing games, but something about this being the top down view made it unique. That uniqueness was amplified obviously by the face that your car could shoot and gain other weapons, then go into boat mode and so on. Spy Hunter was difficult. I never made it past the 3rd section without cheating, but the repetition of playing it over and over never bothered me. I just wanted to play it. Its sequels were just as fun and increasingly got better (give or take) with each installment: “Spy Hunter 2,” “Super Spy Hunter,” Spyhunter,” “Spyhunter 2,” “Spy Hunter,” and “Spyhunter: Nowhere to Run.” Notice that the later sequels reused the title as a way to reboot the franchise, but still serve as a follow on to the original plot, and even included actor Dwayne Johnson as the title character.
4 – Gauntlet (1985) – Oh my poor allowance. Since I didn’t actually own a NES, my brother and I would play the arcade version of this game constantly. How many quarters we spent could have probably bought us a Nintendo over the course of the two summers we spent playing this and the next game I’ll mention. I always chose the warrior and he chose the elf. Then I’d shove him aside when he’d shoot my food as my life ticked away in the game. There was so much about this game that was annoying, yet somehow became so much fun. It’s another that I never beat but thankfully the NES version gave you passwords when you made it to certain checkpoints. I can see death chasing me down the corridors as the machine said in a muffled voice, “Warrior is about to die.” It haunts me. There were some great sequels too: “Gauntlet II,” “Gauntlet: The Third Encounter,” “Gauntlet III: The Final Quest,” “Gauntlet IV,” “Gauntlet Legends,” “Gauntlet Dark Legacy,” and “Gauntlet The Seven Sorrows.”
3 Rampage (1986) – What do you get when you cross a King Kong wannabe, a Godzilla wannabe and a Giant Werewolf with human DNA? Well you get this game of course. Rampage was great because you destroyed buildings, ate people, caused mayhem, and even though you were the badguy of the game it was just so much fun being evil. Sometimes just to piss my brother off, I’d turn on him in coop mode and punch him off a building. It wasn’t nice, but heck I was playing as a bad guy character, so it was justified. The sequels were even more fun and gave new characters the spotlight as well as returning ones: “Rampage World Tour,” “Rampage Universal Tour,” “Rampage Through Time,” and “Rampage Total Destruction.” There was also a spinoff and a movie made starring yet again The Rock.
2 Excitebike (1985) – Whether racing against the clock or against computer opponents, this game took trick dirt biking and brought it into your living room. The highlight of this game for me though was that you could build your own tracks and race them. I recall making some impossible scenarios and then proving I could beat my own tracks without falling off the bike. It was a simpler game, yet satisfying. It also had a few quasi-sequels: “Excitebike 64,” “Excite Truck,” “Excitebots: Trick Racing,” and “Excitebike World Rally.”
1 R.C. Pro Am (1988) – Radio controlled cars were huge in the 80s, but if it was raining outside this was the next best thing. Driving a track with your friends or alone, upgrading your RC cars and winning the races. The games may not have lasted that long, but the memories always will. This, alongside its sequels “Super RC Pro Am” and “RC Pro Am II” paved way for many generations of combative style racing games such as Mario Kart and more.
I realize there are plenty of sports games I could put on this list, but I feel they fall into their own category for a later post. There are other great games for NES that a list of 50 wouldn’t suffice. I can’t mention them all, but for my 20 forgotten games there is an honorable mention. Bad Dudes was released in 1988 and while this street brawler wasn’t nearly as good as some of its competition, it was better than others and still ridiculously entertaining.
I had a sudden flashback the other night to a game I played in the early 80s, and they kept on coming to me. These were video games that had minimal story in today’s standards, but a plot that seemed above all else for their time. They helped shape my passion for telling stories in books today. I figured I’d list just a few of them and would love to hear if you remember these or any others that stand out to you pre-NES era.
If you’re younger (because let’s face it I’m showing my age with this post), then you might want to check these out and let me know what you think (even if the controls are quite unnerving.) My brother Dan helped throw a few of these together, making the list complete.
Here’s my top 20:
20 – Ninja (Atari 8-Bit 1986) – I may have broken a controller playing this at one point because of the sometimes unresponsive controls, but it was still a cool game. As the ninja you could use your combat skills, throwing stars, knives, and sword to battle other skilled enemies in a fortress. I always died when having to battle more than three at a time, but it was still fun and different than any other game of its kind because each screen up down left or right brought you a different challenger(s) and layout.
19 – Pitfall! (Atari 2600 1982) – Pitfall was an easy way to satisfy someone wanting to play the role of Indiana Jones. The thing was you were Pitfall Harry and it was a totally different story. Regardless the feel was there and it was frustrating and fun at the same time. I remember always wondering if there was an end to the game. Apparently there is but I was never able to beat it in under the time required, so I lost out finding that final treasure. Its sequels were even better. “Pittfall II: The Lost Caverns,” Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure,” Pitfall: Beyond The Jungle,” and “Pitfall: The Lost Expedition” were all better evolutions of their predecessors and maintained that same theme that made the original so good.
18 – The Riddle of The Sphinx ( Atari 2600 1982) – As the Prince of Egypt armed with a sling shot, it was your goal in this vertically scrolling game to solve the Riddle of the Sphinx. It combined arcade style action and artifacts. While you fought off enemies, you had to collect the artifacts and take them to the right places to solve the riddle and gain access to the Temple of Ra.
17 – River Raid (Atari 2600 1982) – Dan reminded me of River Raid and I’m not sure how I forgot about this one. You flew a plane over a base and down a river to take out enemy forces. Simple I know, but it’s sequel “River Raid II” was even better and felt as a true continuation to its predecessor. Either way if you owned or played one of these, then you had to play the other to get the full experience.
16 – Enduro (Atari 2600 1983) – Dan chose this one as well and I can’t disagree. Enduro was way better than pole position or any other racing game of the time because it had changing times of day and visibility. It seemed like an endless racer at first, but there was a trophy you’d earn if you got so far. If I recall correctly you could even be entered into a drawing if your score was high enough for an actual real car for a limited time upon release (though no 5 or 6 year old was going to do that.) It was a great marketing ploy for parents to buy copies for their kids or even better yet themselves.
15 – Necromancer (Atari 8-bit 1982) – Necromancer is one of those mindless gems. You take control of a wizard and grow an army of trees to combat the evil necromancer and his minions. It’s a fast paced game that puts you center screen to rotate and destroy orc like creatures and more. There’s also a side scrolling level similar to Donkey Kong’s approach where you have to go up and down ladders. The trees you successfully grow in the first level join you in the second level. Make it through the next few levels and you face the Necromancer in a graveyard. (fitting I know). It was frustrating and yet somehow fun.
14. Aztec Challenge (Commodore 64 1983) – There isn’t much control-wise to this game. You basically have 3 heights of jumps (or movements left and right on some levels) which you can perform as the screen scrolls by and you have to make it past obstacles to reach the final challenge and qualify to be the Aztec people’s champion. I never made it halfway through this game I don’t think, but it was lots of fun and the music was catchy. Perhaps this garners a replay sometime soon.
13. Archon: The Light & The Dark (Atari 8-bit 1983) – Think chess, but with so much more. This utilizes goblins, wizards, a shapeshifter, a phoenix and more characters on a square chess board. Each movement you make is strategic, but when two opposing characters meet on a single square, it goes into a combat screen. There you move around and battle out who will be the victor of the area and who will be captured. It was done so well that it got a sequel called “Archon 2: Adept”. Even today and despite the graphics this game can be a lot of fun.
12. Forbidden Forest (Commodore 64 1983) – There seems to be a year and a fantasy theme running here, but stay with me. This by far has the worst graphics of any of the games I’m mentioning, but something about it mesmerized me and had me playing for hours even though it is sort of endless in a way. There are four levels that alternate between day and night as your lone archer fights through waves of giant spiders, bees and skeletons until you reach the Demogorgon boss, who you can only see in flashes of lightning, making it a challenge. There were two sequels, which I haven’t ever played, “Beyond the Forbidden Forest,” and “Forbidden Forest 3.”
11. Wing War (Colecovision 1983) – This game was extremely difficult because it required finesse when flying your dragon character. You had to compensate for your momentum and be careful where you landed or flew. Your extra lives came in the form of eggs hatching into dragons in your cave. The objective was to gather a crystal of each element and return in to your cave without countering the elements you already had (for example no water if you have fire in there first). Then you’d face off against a dark creature shown in the pic to get the final crystal and return it to win the game. There was a slightly different version for Atari, but the Coleco version was much better graphic wise.
10. Xevious (Atari 8-Bit 1983) – Plot? Fairly simple. You fly a craft from an above view and take out waves of Xevious forces threatening to destroy the Earth. This game was annoying when trying to avoid bullets, but the variety of enemies and replayability was great. It ended up having a few sequels, “Super Xevious,” “Xevious 3D,” and “Xevious Ressurection” as well as spinoff games.
9. Beachhead (Atari 8-Bit 1983) – I also include it’s sequel “Beachhead 2: The Dictator Strikes Back” in this because the four levels in each game can pretty much be combined into an ongoing story. Whether you are a boat navigating a mine field or shooting down enemy battleships, a tank driving with bad controls over and around obstacles and taking down a boss that looks like a dirt pile, or a ninja type guy throwing knives until the enemy dictator falls, this series was unique in the varieties of gameplay controls it had. There was a remake, but nothing is as nostalgiac as the first and second one.
8. Solaris (Atari 2600 1986) – Solaris was probably the best game graphically for the Atari 2600. In it you were a space ship with limited fuel in search of the planet of the title’s namesake. Along the way you’d warp to various sectors of space and planets where there would be alien threats, civilians to rescue, or corridors to traverse. My brother and I played this a lot in search of the planet and despite how many times we tackled it, we only ever beat it once.
7. Mail Order Monsters (Commodore 64 1985) – This game wasn’t that great as far as playing it went, but there was a certain degree of satisfaction in building your own monster and its traits, then taking it into combat against your sibling or friend. You could fight against the computer too, but it was much more fun as a multiplayer than anything else. It was also the closest thing you could get to Godzilla scale monster fights.
6. Karateka (Apple II 1984) – This game was very difficult because of the slow combat mechanics and pace of it, but the graphics were groundbreaking at the time and the animation was very smooth. It was fun and frustrating to spend the time to fight your way through the dojo and battle Akuma (the game’s boss). Worse than the fact that you could easily get your butt kicked by his henchmen, the villain also had a hawk that would occasionally fly into the screen and wipe you out. Sure, it had all that negativity and the stereotypical girl in distress, but there was something about it that stuck. I’m pretty sure the girl you are trying to save would have been better off and probably more capable of fighting the boss and his minions herself then just sitting there waiting.
5. Pepper II (Colecovision 1982) – You’re an angel who can change into a devil in a quest to zip up the grid blocks on each maze. It’s an endless game as far as I can tell, with increasing speed ala pac-man levels. To me it’s more fun than other games like it with a unique story that kind of makes sense. Just beware the zipper ripper and floating eyeballs that will be a thorn in your side, especially as you progress. Toss in the funeral theme from Alfred Hitchcock Presents and a brief Zip-a-dee-do-da, and you can’t forget this one.
4. Space Fury (Colecovision 1981) – The lead alien in this game frightened me a little when I was just a young kid, but that’s what made this game so fun for me. I wanted to win to make it go away. The play itself was the fun part though. It took what Asteroids was and turned it into a colorful battlefield where you could upgrade your ship after each level to have different armor and weapon fire. The music was superb and added to the alien’s eeriness. Little did I know until writing this, that they made a sequel called “Ms. Space Fury,” which had the same music but was a platform style with a female alien.
3. Zaxxon (Colecovision 1982) – With a diagonal area to traverse and tons of colors, there was nothing unattractive about this game. Each area was a new base you’d invade until you got to the robot Zaxxon, who was difficult but not impossible to beat. No matter how many times I played through this I was always entertained and could play more. It had 3 sequels: “Super Zaxxon,” “Zaxxon’s Motherbase 2000,” and
“Zaxxon’s Escape,” but none will top the original.
2. Mr. Do (Colecovision 1982) – I had the original version where the character looked like a snowman, but the main port’s main character was a clown. It didn’t really make a difference because the game was the same either way. It was a digging game with each map resembling the shape of a number. The goal was to collect the cherries so you can get your extra pass to the next level. Apples hung from above that you could use to crush the enemies, but you were also equipped with a bouncy power ball that you could throw and have reappear in your hand. If I were to pick my favorite childhood game of this era, Mr. Do might be at the top of the list for the amount of levels and variety of play. There were also 3 sequels: “Mr. Do’s Castle,” “Mr. Do’s Wild Ride,” and “Do! Run Run,” none of which I ever had the pleasure of playing.
1. Time Pilot (Colecovision 1982) – The version in the arcades actually had an extra level which would have just added to this game, but the four level version I had is still a game I keep hoping they will remake with a modern twist. I didn’t even realize it had a sequel without the time travel element called “Time Pilot ’84.” The original put you in the role of a pilot who traveled to different time periods (obviously), and battled with planes from each era. At the end of each level was a boss ship ranging from a zeppelin to bomber to a UFO in the version with the extra level. If you beat the boss flyer, then you’d be transported through time via a very cool looking (for the time) portal effect that stretched across the screen.
There is one final game worth mentioning, but it’s not in my top 20 because it was in my mind impossible to go anywhere. The difficulty level made it so unplayable that I never made it halfway through the first level. That didn’t stop me from trying. So, for my honorable mention I give to you The Last V8. It was released in 1985 for the Commodore 64 and had great graphics and sound. It was the control for the car and the fact that you had to do extremely fast navigation so that you didn’t run out of fuel that made this impossible. It turns out there were only two levels anyway, so apparently I wasn’t missing much. One version had a third level, but who cares because no one could really do it at least in some reasonable time frame.