Greatest cross-promotion ever? The Ninja Turtles do love their pizza. TMNT II: The Arcade Game for the NES was an incredibly impressive 8-bit conversion of one of the most popular coin-op cabinets ever created — the original side-scrolling Turtles brawler from the early '90s arcade scene. The visuals weren't as vibrant and the animations weren't as fluid, but the gameplay was spot-on. It was so much fun to play that we didn't know many people who cared that it didn't look quite as good as its source material.
Konami even tossed in two new, NES-exclusive extra levels, making it even more "in-demand" when it hit store shelves. And if that five dollar coupon on the manual wasn't enough, Pizza Hut ads even made it into the game itself — one of the earliest examples of that kind of advertising in gaming history. Seriously, those Turtles love eating pizza. I first played this in arcades with relatives manning all four joysticks—calling dibs on pizza for health was futile as everyone else was older and bigger than me.
In , Turtlemania was in full swing, and every marketer worth his or her weight in branded merchandise wanted a piece of animals-that-kick-ass pie. And so the Battletoads — Rash, Pimple, and Zits — were born kids love acne, right? When you aren't pounding all manner of non-amphibious fauna, you are racing speeding vehicles, repelling down pits and performing various other stunts uncharacteristic of your every day brawler. The detailed, cartoon-like graphics go a long way towards easing the pain of the game's extreme difficulty, as does the inclusion of cooperative play — at least you have someone to blame when you run out of continues on the second level.
Ask anyone who played this game extensively and they'll tell you, it was one of the hardest games of all time. For me, just making it to level 2 was a major accomplishment that I reveled in — let alone, the brutality that I had to overcome in future levels especially that darned Ice Cavern. In the realm of 8-bit graphics and extremely limited storage space, Nintendo RPGs and other RPGs of the time had a difficult time telling expansive, immersive stories.
Dragon Warrior IV, released in the US in , tried to buck this trend with a unique approach to unraveling the game's overarching narrative. Instead of focusing on just one character or one group of characters, Dragon Warrior IV tells its fragmented story in chapters, which the gamer takes on one at a time. When all's said and done, the chapters' events and characters culminate in an amazing endgame. Even though Dragon Warrior IV approached the act of storytelling in a unique way, most of Dragon Warrior's gameplay conventions remained unchanged.
It's a good thing, too, since this was the last Dragon Warrior game to appear in the United States for nearly a decade. Even though I was completely taken with the new bit game systems by the time this came out, Dragon Warrior IV was still one of my most anticipated games at the time. Life Force, the NES port of the arcade game Salamander, and a spin-off of Gradius, is one of the best shooters the system has to offer, period.
The levels are similarly themed but diverse; from pulsing, organic biomasses to blistering fire fields to gleaming space stations, Life Force keeps things interesting for the duration of the admittedly short flight. Life Force's moderate difficulty sets it apart from its peers in a genre generally geared towards the masochistic. The key to not being obliterated is, of course, power-ups. Once you beef up your defenses, you're free to start amassing a sprawling arsenal, making aiming your shots somewhat irrelevant.
Or you can just skip the work and enter the Konami Code to get fully powered up in a matter of seconds. Finally, you can also blast through Life Force with a buddy — just don't expect the game's strained, overworked engine to keep up!
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The Konami code let me finish this co-op version of Gradius. If you were a space nerd who loved Stewart Cowley's Spaceships to AD, you too, would write up fictional technical specifications for the Vic Viper and the RoadBritish spacecraft. At some point in the latter half of the s, Konami's instantly-recognizable silver-framed package art became a surefire visual indicator of a top-notch NES experience. Those that picked up Jackal merely due to its similarity in appearance to games like Contra and Castlevania were not disappointed.
Jackal's premise is that the resolution to all conflict lies in explosions — lots and lots of explosions. Occasionally you need to take a break from the one-Jeep-army annihilation to collect POWs from camps, but for your patience you are rewarded with even greater destructive power. Before long your middling grenades are replaced by sleek missiles capable of taking out even the largest of enemy tanks. And believe us, the tanks get larger. The key to Jackal's success, like so many other games on this list, is cooperative gameplay. Enlist a second set of wheels and you'll be nuking twice the whatever-the-hell-you-want-to in no time.
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Choreographing delicate rescue operations with my cousin was a blast, sending one Jeep to collect P. Unnecessary, sure, but so necessary. You took on the role of a nameless hero setting off to save a village of Elves who are slowly being poisoned by the magic of the malevolent Evil One.
He's hidden himself inside the enormous, Tower of Babylon-esque World Tree — a massive, multi-leveled living structure that holds the entire game's worth of town, fortresses and enemy lairs within its roots, trunk and branches. It would be great to see Nintendo revive the Faxanadu concept someday. But, for now, it stands as a hidden gem that only the hardcore faithful got to experience 20 years ago.
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I had a password that started players at or near the final town, but with all the ultimate weapons and armor still unequipped. This was so I could put on different weapons and gloat because once you don the final tier of weapons and armor, you can't remove them. This original and its sequel, Zoda's Revenge: StarTropics II, are still fondly remembered by faithful Nintendo fans to this day for their unique and light-hearted twist on genre conventions.
Your character's primary weapon is a common yo-yo, and his secondary items are equally ordinary — baseballs, baseball bats and spiked cleats are all notable entries into your arsenal. The hero, Mike Jones, is just an average kid from Seattle who's looking for a lost archaeologist in the tropical archipelago of Caribbean-esque islands. Stiff control, demanding jumping and misdirecting puzzles all gave StarTropics' many dungeon sequences a considerable challenge factor.
Overworld puzzle-solving was equally as important — there was even a riddle that you couldn't solve unless you opened up the physical game box and read a piece of paper packaged with the game. An early attempt by Nintendo at copy protection?
But totally memorable, no matter what the motivation. Even before the used market took off, Nintendo made some moves to make sure that purchasers of a fresh version got a better experience than someone who borrowed a pre-played one. I remember the one clue you had to solve by soaking an included piece of paper in water to reveal it the answer. Good luck finding a copy now that doesn't have a warped parchment…. The Vic Viper's first attack run may have been in the arcades, but the NES brought the popular space shooter home in a near-perfect port.
Gradius is all about pimping your ride.
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The sluggish junker you start out with is soon augmented with shields and weapons of your choosing. Gradius' unique power-up system makes for some tough decisions: do you beef up your defenses in order to tough out that inevitable meteor shower? Or do you crank your ships thrusters to their max, relying on a quick trigger finger to clear a path? Starting out in fairly straightforward space environments, things soon got weird in Gradius, with levels filled with Moais shooting donut rings.
These mysterious monoliths eventually became a series standard. Although you can't tackle Gradius with a pal, you can outfit your ship with "options" — mindless, floating turrets that flank your ship. You'll soon realize how much better off you are without a rookie to keep track of.
I used to apply the Konami code to every game from Konami just to see what would happen. Gradius was hard but fully powering up the Vic Viper made things a lot easier. Since the beginning of console gaming, movie licensed titles have held the stigma of being awful. Atari titles like ET set the stage for what is still known today as a group of games best avoided.
But not all licensed titles are bad. Some of them are good. Really, really good. Sunsoft's Batman, released Stateside in , bucked convention, both old and new, and provided gamers with what proved to be an awesome action-oriented experience full of deep gameplay and immense difficulty. But while action games on the NES are a dime a dozen, it's this very fact that made Batman stand out amongst the competition.
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Batman didn't try to do anything unique, but rather took a cue from a few already-established NES staples to make Batman a fun, worthwhile experience. Borrowing ideas from Mega Man and Ninja Gaiden, Batman was able to toggle through a vast arsenal of weaponry and grapple to walls to assist in the platforming mayhem. Next time you think all movie licensed games are garbage, dust off this old classic and surprise yourself all over again. Batman taught me the meaning of "envy;" I went to a neighbor's house and played it all day, mastering the diabolical wall jump platforming challenges, and I wanted the game for myself.
I came back the next day to challenge Joker, but I don't think we ever beat him. Seen from a three-quarters viewpoint that placed every environment on an angle relative to the player, you were tasked to take command of a snake that, initially, had no body. If you nibble enough of the Nibbleys, your snake's body would grow, his tail extending longer and longer behind his comical head and forked tongue.
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Then, with enough mass amassed, you could jump onto the level-ending weight scale to trigger the opening of the stage-clearing door — make it through there, and you're on to the next world. The ridiculousness of the premise was only matched by the difficulty of the game's control scheme, and the superb 8-bit soundtrack that accompanied all the hungry, hungry action.
My greatest memory of this game is trying to convince a dozen IGN editors why this game was so awesome nearly 20 years ago. This is a Rare sleeper and one of the most creative games those guys made. It's like Marble Madness turned into a platformer…and it worked! If you missed their heyday in the '80s and '90s, Micro Machines were essentially the same thing as those other toy car brands — they were just smaller; about half the size of the others, in fact — making them really, really tiny.
The Micro Machines concept of incredibly little cars racing each other was adapted into this NES racing design, a game that featured overhead, birds-eye view action behind the miniature wheel and environments all designed to emphasize the diminutive scale of it all. Kind of like Pixar's Toy Story, this was a world seen from a toy's perspective — races took place on top of massive billiards tables or in backyard with gigantic, looming flowers and blades of grass.
Interestingly, Micro Machines was also one of the rare, unlicensed-by-Nintendo releases for the NES — but the lack of the Seal of Quality or standard cartridge design didn't keep it from being a great game. I remember seeing this game being pushed on the Home Shopping Network months before it was available in stores.
I guess since it was an unlicensed Nintendo game, Codemasters had a hard time getting retailers interested in stocking it. But man, the game delivered. I still believe that the NES original is the greatest top-down racer ever developed. When Mega Man finally hit American shores in the late '80s, Capcom couldn't have realized the gaming force it unleashed.