This Thanksgiving, lets give thanks to Nintendo Entertainment System and its marvelous library of games. I’m thankful that I don’t have to empty my savings account to buy great Nintendo games. As a frugally-minded game collector, I shy away from big name Nintendo and Sega titles, opting to find the hidden gems among the various retro libraries. I chose ten games which can almost always be found for less than $10 dollars, whether that be on Ebay, Amazon, a flea market or game store. The trick with game collecting is to collect out of enthusiasm not nostalgia. Beginning as an amateur record collector, I never cared much for rarity, choosing to hear my favorite 70’s and 80’s bands on the superior quality of vinyl. The same goes for games, I care little about the rarity or nostalgia, but care a lot for the gameplay and experience. While Super Mario Bros and other Nintendo darlings can be found for under $10 on the online marketplace, there’s no guarantee a nefarious reseller won’t try to sell it for $25. As a result, I chose ten games that are underrated and off the radar, while having unique gameplay that rivals the best sellers on the system.
10. Deja Vu (ICOM Simulations/Kemco-Seika)
Deja Vu is one of a handful of point-and-click adventures on the Nintendo Entertainment System (almost all by ICOM Simulations). You play as an amnesiac detective who must solve puzzles and uncover clues to reestablish his identity. The graphic text adventure takes place in 1940’s Chicago and features complex gameplay, jazzy 8-bit tunes, and highly detailed graphics. I fell in love with the game when I found it in an Ebay game lot. Even though the graphics were static, the game world felt almost endless.
With well designed background graphics and little animation, the developers of Deja Vu were able to craft an elaborate world, once only relegated to text adventures. There are complex sewers, a casino, abandoned buildings, and much more to explore in the noir adventure. Like many adventure games,it takes only few hours to beat the game, but that all depends on how fast you can solve the puzzles and advance the story. The game isn’t for everyone, you must use the d-pad as a mouse and issue commands to your player, which can be frustrating to the average Nintendo player. The game comes with a battery save which really comes in handy as you can die A LOT. If you like classic adventure games like Monkey Island and Zork, you’ll love this game. Average price: $7.
9. Shadowgate (ICOM Simulations/Kemco Seika)
Playing Shadowgate is like being stranded in the middle of a dark maze and having only five matches to light your way. Despite being from the same developers as Deja Vu, Shadowgate provided tougher puzzles, ambiguous death traps, and a burning torch that must be kept lit at all times. Viewed
from a first person perspective, the castle-crawling adventure game plays much like a visual storybook, an obvious step forward from the text-adventures on the PC. The game isn’t for everyone, using the d-pad as a cursor can be frustrating especially when its low accuracy affects gathering items and solving puzzles. While I could beat the aforementioned Deja Vu without a walkthrough, I found myself glued to my phone displaying a gamefaqs guide more than the television screen. For around $7 for a loose cart, Shadowgate provides not only engrossing, esoteric gameplay but also one of the most haunting and melodic soundtracks on the system.
8. A Boy and His Blob (Imagineering/Absolute Entertainment)
With a score and title screen unabashedly aping Indiana Jones, one would expect a Boy and His Blob to be a treasure-hunting, dungeon crawling adventure platformer. Though adventure and exploration form the structure of this platformer created by Pitfall designer David Crane, A Boy and His Blob is more of a testament to innovative game design than a rehashing of typical genres. As evinced by the title, you play as a boy who must guide his blobby alien bud Blobert through earth and Blobonia to save the respective planets from a sugar-obsessed emperor. As you journey through different environments, you must feed your blob jellybeans to have him morph into different platforming friendly objects, like a ladder or a chasm-escaping bubble. Perhaps the most “Atari” game on the Japanese system, the game won’t win any accolades for graphics or sound effects (the main theme loops over and over like an old Atari 2600 game). Despite its simplicity, for around $5, A Boy and His Blob provides hours of innovative gameplay and should be in any Nintendo collector’s arsenal. There was also a wonderful remake on the Wii, check it out.
7. Rygar (Tecmo)
Action RPGs are among my favorite games to play on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Never actually playing the system as a child, I have a hard time slugging through generic platformers with impossible gameplay and poor programming. Action RPGs like Rygar provide a panacea for Nintendo frustration, allowing for health upgrades, an arsenal of weapons and quest items, and, most importantly, a diverse and expansive game environment. Rygar stands strong among great games like Legend of Zelda and Metroid, but has largely gone unnoticed. As Rygar, you must defeat the evil Ligar by visiting five Indora gods who will give you items to aid you on your quest. Fantastic controls allow you to slice apart enemies with your yo-yo shield in a few hits, and a select menu enables three spells for use once enough magic is collected. Featuring side scrolling platforming and overhead exploration, Rygar plays like the Adventure of Link if it was ten times easier. The highlights of the game are definitely the role playing and dungeon crawling elements, as enemies and bosses are quite easy to defeat. For less than $5, Rygar will not disappoint.
6. Willow (Capcom)
Licensed games are a lot like breakfast cereals. Sure, Fruity Pebbles and Golden Crisps are based off of Hanna Barbera cartoons, but after awhile they’re just a sugary corn-based meal you eat for breakfast (so much so you may even buy the generic knock-off brand). Movie tie-in games don’t fare well with critics or consumers unless they provide innovative gameplay (Goldeneye, The Walking Dead, etc.), and even then the games will often overshadow their source material. Willow, based on the eponymous George Lucas box-office bust, outshone its source material and became one of the most underrated action RPGs of the 8-bit era. Known for 2-D fighters, shooters, and platformers, Capcom lacked what many developers specialized in, role-playing games. Capcom is not known for slacking off on licensed games (DuckTales, Chip ‘n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, etc.) and Willow bares no exception. Not surprisingly, the game has nothing to do with the movie, and instead follows the Zelda and Final Fantasy formula where the player can explore the game environment and take on quests to complete the story. I haven’t seen the movie, so I can’t really comment on the story or characters. You control Nelwyn in a third person perspective while you traverse forests, caves, and dungeons collecting swords, magic, and leveling up health and attack. The soundtrack is amazing, melodic (I first heard of Willow from The Advantage’s cover), and more diverse than the Legend of Zelda. Pick up the working man’s Zelda for about $5 or less.
5. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Sunsoft)
Everyone knows about the horrendous and controller-busting licensed games from LJN and Acclaim, but few can legitimately call the licensed library from Sunsoft and Capcom poorly done cash-in titles. Sunsoft brought us the console tie-ins to 1989 Batman, Fester’s Quest, Journey to Silius (originally a Terminator game), and Gremlins 2. The third person platformer sets itself apart from the crappy LJN licenses by providing tight controls, quality graphics and cutscenes
, great level design, and an awesome soundtrack. I haven’t seen the film (I wasn’t allowed to!), so I can’t tell if its following the story or not. You control a little mogwai guy through sewers, factories, and kitchens, fighting other mogwais with paper clips and magic wands. It’s very difficult, but fair in its challenges. You can collect orbs and shop for a health bar, weapon upgrade, or a balloon that will save you from falling down chasms. Grab this game for about $7.50.
4. Marble Madness (Atari/Rare/Milton-Bradley)
Although derided as a potential choking hazard for children, playing with marbles has been a nostalgic pasttime for kids since the beginning of the 20th century. Designed by Mark Cerny (who earned a lifetime achievement award for game design in 2004) for the arcade in 1984, Marble Madness simulated the nostalgic marble game as players used a trackball to guide their marbles through isometric mazes and contraptions. The ingenious and nostalgic design influenced countless games like Marble Mania, Super Monkey Ball, and Snake, Rattle, and Roll. Even Sonic the Hedgehog felt its influence as Cerny
went on to program for Sonic 2. The Nintendo port by Milton-Bradley unfortunately came without a trackball, utilizing the Nintendo d-pad to the best of its ability. It did, however, allow to simultaneous two-player challenges, making the game one of the better two-player games on the console. Despite the lack of the trackball, the Nintendo port is quite faithful to the 1984 arcade machine, featuring the same esoteric soundtrack, level design, and head-to-head challenges. For a mere $3, Marble Madness is a challenging and entertaining game to play with your retro-gaming friends.
3. Little Nemo: The Dream Master (Capcom)
Based on an anime based on an early 20th century American comic strip, Little Nemo will forever be confused with the Disney/Pixar film Finding Nemo, while its source material remains even more obscure here in the States. In the comic strip and the film, Nemo is a young child who explores his lucid dreams only to wake up in a state of confusion in the final pane. Capcom’s Little Nemo builds upon the comic strip and anime introducing players to several fantastical dream levels, whimsical tunes, and otherworldly gameplay. a platformer reminiscent of the Mega Man series, you play as Nemo throughout the levels, but are completely vulnerable to your environment without the aid of an animal friend. That’s right, you must feed animals candy and ride them like taming a sweet-toothed horse. Each creature has special abilities which allow you to traverse each level–you’ll find a tree-climbing gorilla, a wall-climbing lizard, and a dirt-digging mole among other utilitarian critters. Graphics, sound, and level design are all on-par with Capcom’s great NES series (Mega Man, Duck Tales, etc.), which makes me wonder why the game is so underrated. Junko Tomiya’s enchanting score embodies the whimsical nature of the game with its Parisian and early 20th century inspired score. Don’t be deceived by its kid-friendly themes, this is an incredibly difficult game, I couldn’t even get past the second level. Overall, Little Nemo: Dream Master with its quixotic gameplay and level design will leave you coming back for more, no matter how many times a stupid spider kills your sugar-induced gorilla. Instead of picking up a Mega Man game for $30+, pick up a copy of Little Nemo for around $6, you won’t be disappointed!
2. Ghosts ‘n’ Goblins (Capcom)
Developed for the arcade in 1985, Ghosts ‘n Goblins will forever be known as one of the most difficult games ever created. Nintendo and Capcom fans know of its ball-busting difficulty, but Sir Arthur has been all but completed overshadowed by other Capcom stalwarts (younger gamers may know Arthur as the short knight with the spears in Marvel vs. Capcom 3). The Nintendo port saw no change in its brutal difficulty– Arthur could only survive two hits and the game could only be beaten in two complete playthroughs! That’s right, e
ven though the princess is in the same castle, you still have to fight through the same levels over again on a higher difficulty to fight the final boss, Satan. Even with infinite continues and mid-level checkpoints, the arcade platformer will continue to pummel you until your swollen fingers cry out for help. Every Nintendo collector should have this game, not only as a collectible but as a game you can continue to challenge yourself with. If you beat it, you’ll have bragging rights among all your friends! Pick this up cheap for about $8.75 before it gets pricey.
1. The Guardian Legend (Compile/Broderbund)
Very few games can successfully intertwine opposing video game genres. Some hybrid games will blatantly favor one genre over the other (Snatcher– great interactive drama, bad light-gun shooter), while others intermix genres so fluidly it becomes its own genre (ActRaiser– brilliant city sim and brilliant platformer). The Guardian Legend fits into the latter category, incorporating the fast paced action of space shooters and the addictive exploration of action rpgs. Compile, infamous for their quality space shooters like Blazing Lazers and MUSHA, were not known for role-playing games, but nevertheless, created a true contender to Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda series (I like to think of it as the thinking man’s Zelda). As the Guardian (a female, I might add), you must infiltrate and destroy the alien planet Naju before it impacts with Earth. While inside the depths of Naju, you must activate ten safety devices to prevent its cataclysmic impact. As you explore the labyrinthine Naju, you will gather power ups, new weapons, and keys to unlock other areas. Within each section of the labyrinth, you will transform into a laser-shootin’, grenade-launchin’ mech shooter (much like in MUSHA and the Aleste series). Here you will use the same arsenal of weapons shooting down aliens as you do in the overhead exploration areas, a concept that works amazingly well. You’ll fight your most difficult bosses in the space-shooting stage rather than the overhead stages. While the bosses may be difficult, they become easier with greater weapon upgrades. The game is expansive and non-linear, but is tied down by its massive password save system. The music again is stellar, diverse, and very catchy. “Space Zelda” or “Zelda with guns” is how affectionately explain the game to my friends, but even those descriptions don’t do it justice. I played the game last year over several days and was just blown away at the expansiveness of the gameworld and variety of the space-shooting levels. Usually space-shooter fans and adventure fans don’t mix, but The Guardian Legend may be the game to bring these two disparate groups together. Although it reached a high of $18 in June of 2012, the cartridge can easily be had for around $7. It is still absent from the Virtual Console, so buying the cart is a must!
Thank you guys for reading through my article, I know I missed quite a few great games, so here are my runner ups with their average price on VGPC: Crystalis(SNK: $9.75), Faxanadu (Hudson Soft: $4.76), Life Force (Konami, $7.00), Blaster Master (Sunsoft: $5.30), Xexyz (Hudson Soft: $5.00), and The Goonies II (Konami, $3.89).