Jordan Jones lists seven NES titles you may have missed…
When I was very young, one of my weekend traditions was going to the family-owned video store down the street to rent a game for my NES. I would spend upwards of an hour deciding which of the countless games lining the store walls would be the title that I’d spend hours trying to beat before Monday morning hit. Keep in mind, this was over 20 years ago. I didn’t have the luxury of reading reviews online, and I didn’t even know magazines for games existed at the time. This meant that box-art was a really important factor in my decision-making, which of course meant exposure to some truly awful games, but also allowed me to discover some lesser-known gems. Here are some of those games, and a few that simply do not get the admiration they deserve.
Little Nemo: The Dream Master
A seriously fun, light-hearted adventure title that has you control a boy named Nemo through a world built of dreams. To traverse the environment, you need to take control of its various inhabitants. The game is adorable, with creatures needing to be tamed with candy before they can ever be ridden, or assumed. I spent countless hours playing this game, but never got very far. A few years ago, I returned to Little Nemo, and was delighted to find that it still holds up. The game controls really well, and there are a number of secrets to find. It’s a shame that we never got a sequel, but one can hope. In the meantime, check out the anime.
This game is as bizarre as it gets. I had vague memories of Monster Party as a child, but almost didn’t believe it existed for many years. Somehow, I thought memories of this title were simply fragments of other games that I blended into one, or perhaps a fever dream. However, just like Little Nemo, I was able to find another copy of this game several years back. So, not only was this spooky title real, but it is still an absolute blast to play. The story is sparse: you’re a boy with a baseball bat who meets a flying alien on the street. Said alien wants to enlist your help fighting malevolent forces because you have a baseball bat, after all. This flimsy premise is all that is needed to embark on a journey filled with some of the weirdest bosses that I have ever encountered in a video game. There are zombies, and ghosts, to be sure. However, Monster Party holds the unique distinction of being the first video game to ever let me engage in combat with an onion ring. Maybe the only game.
Nightmare on Elm Street
Similar to Friday the 13th for the NES, but nowhere near as bad. Nightmare on Elm Street casts you in the role of a neighborhood teen charged with gathering the bones of Freddy Krueger. The goal is to burn them in the high-school furnace with the intent of banishing Freddy from the world of dreams. Beyond this synopsis, the game moves away from the plot of the movies considerably. The game throws a lot of generic enemies at you, like snakes, ghosts, etc. However, the graphics are quite good for the era, and the actual fights with Freddy are really creative, and disturbing. Most impressively, Nightmare on Elm Street had four-player multiplayer through the NES Satellite.
Somehow, I spent more time with Karnov than any of these titles. Developed by Data East, a late Japanese developer, Karnov was about as crazy as you would imagine a game about a Russian circus performer who fights dinosaurs would be. Traversing nine levels, the goal was to find the “ultimate treasure” (I honestly do not know if it has another name). To get said treasure, Karnov has to fight a variety of foes such as genies, dinosaurs, and (this is my favorite) ostrich-riding skeletons. You read all of that correctly. The game plays like an even more bizarre version of Super Mario Bros., with Karnov able to find power-ups that allow him to spit fire. All of these elements combine to make a delightfully quirky title. Seriously, the game is a lot of fun. After all, if we can buy titles about plumbers saving princesses, what’s so weird about a shirtless, fire-breathing man fighting dinosaurs?
Blaster Master isn’t under-looked, really, but I still don’t think enough people have played this amazing NES game. The story is simple, but interesting. Simply put: you’re a boy who chases a frog down a hole, only to discover a state-of-the-art tank named SOPHIA. The frog is subject to some kind of mutation, and it’s up to you to stop it. The game gave off a truly impressive sense of scale for the time. The tank was fluid, and durable. However, there were also times when you needed to exit the tank in order to scale ladders, and fight bosses. It was an intimidating feeling. The bosses were bizarre, and grotesque for the time. Blaster Master was pretty difficult, and there were times when I would let the title-screen linger just to see some of the boss fights in advance. I would cry for a sequel, but it already looks like that wish has been granted.
This little guy had an excellent run in the early 90s, with titles on the NES, SNES, Turbografx 16, and others. Another game that, while not completely overlooked, still feels criminally underplayed. The title character was a charming cave-boy whose primary method of attack was his exceedingly dense skull. Bonk would use his head to attack, and also to traverse the environment. The game was a joy to control, and the levels were varied. The bosses were screen-filling, and a blast to fight. Some of my fondest gaming memories involved the Bonk series, and it’s heartbreaking that we never got to see Bonk 64, or Bonk: Brink of Extinction for last-gen. With Hudson-Soft having closed its doors a while back, I’m afraid Bonk won’t be butting heads anytime soon.
Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse
Castlevania, and Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest are the installments most talked about by gamers, but little is said about Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. This is honestly baffling, as the game is the best looking, and best playing, of all the NES Castlevania games. The game has tight combat, branching paths, and a number of playable characters. Also, each character has their own fighting style, and way of moving through the environment. This game came at the end of the NES’ life-cycle, and it’s apparent in the detail this game has. My fondest memory with this game involves climbing my way up a secret path to avoid a moving platform section, and seeing a giant working the very machinery that made the platforms below move. It’s details like this that make Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse so memorable. Not to mention: this is the game that introduced Alucard, star of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, arguably the best installment in the series.
With the NES Classic just around the corner, what better time to dig back into the vast selection of games released for the NES? You could be like me, and choose by box-art, hoping for the best. However, if you aren’t feeling brave, I’d start with these.
You can find Jordan on Twitter (@JordJJones), and Facebook.