NEStalgia has finished 1985 and we're celebrating with a special recap episode and OUR TOP 5 GAMES ON THE NES...so far! This episode is full of fun little anectodes so stick around until the end!
TOP 5 GAMES OF 1985
#5 - Excitebike
We can safely say that for any fan of racing games, Excitebike is still fun. The gameplay is simple, but rewarding. You control your racer through a series of obstacles as you compete for a faster time. This is a game anyone can finish, but few will master. What it lacks in stages, "races" and 2 player, it totally makes up for with the unique concept of the design mode. To see this on an NES launch game is just incredible. Game design at the time was the furthest stretch away from possible for a hobbyist forget about an 8-year old. And yet, with Excitebike we have endless replay value from the ability to design our own courses. Imagine this feature if Super Mario Bros. was packed with a design mode. It took Nintendo another twenty-one years to bring Mario Maker to Wii U.
Designed by Nintendo Legend Shigeru Miyamoto and the prestigious R&D1 team, in hindsight it's easy to think that Excitebike would be a success. But this is an NES launch game and by no means was the name, "Miyamoto" considered praise worthy yet. Excitebike launched a series of Excite games, but that alone is not enough to say it's important. What makes Excitebike important is the ability to design your course and put an emphasis on game design at a time where that was not a concept kids were thinking about.
#4 - KUNG-FU*
In Kung Fu, you play as Thomas, a man well versed in kicks and punches, on his way up a 5 story building to rescue Sylvia from Mr. X and his many minions. It’s never quite explained what Thomas’ relationship with Sylvia is, and she isn’t even shown until after the second floor, but hey it’s still a semblance of a story!
There’s a modest but still surprising amount of variety in Thomas’ moveset, with high and low kicks as well as jump kicks thrown in for good measure. While the hitboxes are a little smaller than one might intuit initially, the player can get the hang of them after they try and fail to play through the first level a few times. There’s also a good amount of variety in the enemies and obstacles you fight through over the course of the game. Knife throwers and grippers (I prefer the term “snuggler”, but I digress) dominate the first floor, while snakes and hallucinatory fire breathing dragons make up the bulk of the second. Each floor concludes with a one-on-one fight with a unique boss. One carries a stick, one has the ability to lose and regrow his head. I’d say that’s all fun stuff.
#3 - DUCK HUNT
There is no doubt about it, almost thirty-five years since it’s release, Duck Hunt is still a blast today! Offering multiple game modes, it can be played for hours with a friend and never feel boring. While the “One Duck” mode can be a bit slow to start, it improves vastly after round ten, especially when you realize that a second player can control the ducks! “Two Duck” mode offers a more challenging (and more fun) version of the first mode, the ducks move faster and appear two at a time, which causes the rounds to go by more quickly. The third mode, “Clay Shooting”, offers something entirely different, launching clay pigeons for target practice. There’s nothing more satisfying than zeroing in on a shrinking target, and hitting your mark. With a little practice, this game makes you feel like a sharpshooter.
Many games today are tossing aside the conventional controller in favor of using the player’s real world actions to control the game. When we see this level of imersion we think of how far video games have come. It’s easy to forget that Nintendo was already doing this way back in 1984. It’s safe to say that Duck Hunt laid a concrete foundation. It helped to establish Nintendo’s reputation as the company that seeks to deliver a unique playing experience. It wouldn't be surprising if Nintendo references the success of Duck Hunt frequently when pitching new and unique ideas. Duck Hunt is not only important as a great game of the past, but also as one that still holds up, over three decades later.
#2 - GOLF
The first question you have to ask yourself, was golf ever fun? If you answered no then pack it up right now because this game is not going to change your opinion in any way. If you've liked the yearly PGA tour games than Golf is the incredibly minimalist, but fully functional version of that series. I can't stress enough how much you have to "like" the idea of playing golf to enjoy this or any of the NES golf titles. One thing I appreciate about this game is that very little comes down to chance in this game. The biggest variable is wind, but anything under 10m isn't likely to change your approach that much.
Please look at a manual before you give up on Golf for the NES. It explains a lot about the clubs in the game and even informs you how far each club will drive on the green and in a bunker. Combine that knowledge with the distance to the hole and you have a much better idea at how to approach a course. Without the manual, you're in for a rough time of guessing what might work and then resetting when it doesn't. There are five factors in your control and two outside of your control. These seven features make up nearly the entire game and it's kind of beautiful that Golf could be that simple while offering a lot of variety. You control your club, your swing, the force of your swing, and your putt. The game controls the wind and the obstacles (courses). Again, it's simple, but beating your high score is rewarding.
Two other golf games came out in Japan around the same time. While both of those options are less optimized than Nintendo's version it is suspect that they all use an identical approach to simulating golf in a video game. The important thing about Golf on the NES is that it was the most successful title of the three and paved the way for all future 2D golf games. And while Golf has moved on to bigger and better things in the 3D space, the core concepts of what should matter in Golf (Club, Swing, Force, Wind, and Putt) have all carried over and with very little change. That's quite a notable difference compared to how drastically different 10-Yard Fight is to Madden '18. Also, we have to note that legendary composer Koji Kondo (Legend of Zelda Series) and Shigeru Miyamoto (Super Mario Bros. and Legend of Zelda) were both the composer and designer respectively on Golf.
#1 - SUPER MARIO BROS.
I worry for the day when specifically children no longer find Super Mario Bros. fun. There is a timeless quality of exploration, wonder, and challenge packed alongside simple and thoughtful controls that allows Super Mario Bros. to still shine today. Obviously gaming has come a long way since Super Mario Bros. in more ways than just graphics, but it would be foolish to say to say that every AAA release today is better than Super Mario Bros. The game is carefully planned to continue to innovate and introduce new concepts to the platforming genre on every single level. Stomping on a goomba, axing a bridge, and finding a warp zone are all still fun to this day
The genius in Super Mario Bros. is all about the design of the jump. Depending on how far you have ran, how hard you push 'A', and what direction you're tilting your D-Pad at any particular point all play a part in the length and trajectory of Mario's jump. It's such a satisfying jump that the games that came before it (like Ice Climber and Donkey Kong) just couldn't get quite right. Super Mario Bros. might be a bit frustrating with it's life system and later dungeons, but the game is by no means impossible by today's standards.
This is a rare case where this game will never not be important to the medium. Similar to how people talk about Citizen Kane in the film industry, Super Mario Bros. is very well regarded today because of all the ways it changed the industry. Going back to play it now, you might have criticism about the jump, the life system, the timer, and the number of levels, but you'll also need to remind that many of the gameplay elements of Super Mario Bros. were presented for the first time on this release. More so, this game takes many elements that define a good game and makes them work in harmony. That's where the Citizen Kane parallel begins, they might be harder to watch or play today, but their impact and contributions are undeniable for the time.