Exploring the NES – Part 1

As I briefly mentioned in my ‘Exploring the Commodore 64‘ feature, the computers or consoles we look back upon with most affection are usually the first ones we got, and these are usually gifts from our parents for Christmas or something similar. Just as I missed out on C64 gaming by virtue of receiving the splendid gift of a ZX Spectrum, I also completely missed out on Famicom / NES gaming by becoming a Master System owner. Although it wasn’t a gift this time (the details surrounding the purchase can be found here), the enjoyment my MS provided soon turned me into a Sega fanboy who looked upon the ‘inferior’ NES with scorn.

Of course, the fact that the NES was a bit of a flop here in the UK just reinforced my belief that I had chosen wisely, it was irrelevant that it was crushing all before it in Japan and the US, and in a coincidental parallel of my Speccy situation, I didn’t know a single person who owned an NES. This meant I missed out on Super Mario Bros, Legend of Zelda, Mega Man, Castlevania, and all the other classic franchises born on this famous console, but I didn’t care at the time – it took the SNES to break my disdain for Nintendo and by then the NES was old news. Fortunately however, it turned out my evolution as a gamer meant that once I’d reached the Dreamcast and my beloved Sega had gone down (well, as a hardware manufacturer), I fell out of love with modern gaming and instead sought refuge in gaming’s past.

Before starting Red Parsley I had, somewhat startlingly never played an NES game. I have since played a few here and there for the odd review or feature, but the console remains largely unknown to me. It was mainly for this reason that I asked Eric, Facebook friend and purveyor of fine NES reviews and features website, Nintendo Legend, to recommend five games that he felt would give me a well-rounded experience of his favourite console. Though there will be a follow-up to this feature at some point, here I present my first impressions of the games Eric chose and of the console generally.

Super Mario Bros 3 (1988)

Okay, yes, I’ve played this one before, albeit as part of Super Mario All-Stars on my SNES, so I already know how frickin’ awesome it is! Having said that, the ‘Best Mario Game’ argument often comes down to this or Super Mario World, and I have to confess, I prefer the latter. But that’s like trying to decide what’s best between two Ferrari’s – neither is exactly a pile of crap! Like most Mario games, it’s possible to just casually pootle through each of the many stages that make up the eight worlds here and then play something else but just as much fun comes from trying to uncover all the many secrets the game holds too. In my opinion, as a Master System owner I had access to a game as equally fantastic as this in Wonder Boy 3, but it’s possible I may change that viewpoint after a long-overdue delve into this amazing game.

Maniac Mansion (1987)

I confess, there’s not many game genre’s I don’t really get on with but ‘point and click’ adventures are one of them. I know how well regarded this game is though, so I approached it with an open mind and… it’s not bad! It’s set in an evil professor’s large mansion of some sort from which you must help Dave rescue his girlfriend. Joining him are two friends who you can choose yourself from six who all have unique abilities. I’m sure I’m just preaching to the converted here though! It’s easy to see why this game was so popular in its day – it and its sequel still command a loyal following today, as well as many other LucasArts games. The graphics and music are pretty nice but the most fun comes from exploring the mansion which has a lot of replay value thanks to the multiple characters. I may not finish this game, being something of a genre beginner, but I’ll certainly give it a go! Much more fun than I thought it would be!

Dragon Warrior (1986)

Long have I known of the immense popularity of the Dragon Quest series in Japan but I haven’t actually played any… until now! I was a bit nervous too. I love action RPG’s like Zelda, Grandia, and the Shining series, for example, but this is a proper RPG, you have to actually learn how to play these things! My first 30 minutes or so playing this was great though. I generally like games with fantasy settings and it’s no exception. The graphics and music are rather basic, even for a NES game, but everything is neat and tidy and it’s an enjoyable game world to explore. Well, until I left the first town that is, where I encountered the infamous ‘random battles’ syndrome whereby monsters appear every five seconds or so! Luckily it’s not mandatory to fight each of them (although I initially tried and was soon defeated!). It will of course take me much longer to make any significant progress into this game but I like it a lot so far.

Tecmo Super Bowl (1991)

Hooray, an American Football game, thanks Eric! It was actually thanks to gaming that I became interested in this sport and I remain a loyal 49ers fan to this day (for my sins). The first thing that struck me about this offering from Tecmo, which is notable for being the first sports game to be officially licensed and therefore able to use all the correct team and player names, was its superb presentation. I’ve played US Football games older than this before but Tecmo really put a sheen of polish on it to show up all competitors. As with most complicated sports games, it took a while to get the hang on this one, but once I did I couldn’t stop playing it! Witness my 80-odd yard touchdown run against the stupid Packers to the right! It’s not been hard to see why this game is still popular today.

Contra (1988)

It’s rather ridiculous that I’ve never played a Contra game quite frankly, especially given my appreciation of other run ‘n’ gun games such as the Shinobi series. Nonetheless, I guess it’s fitting my first one is the first one and it was immediately obvious to me why this series has always been held in such high regard. It’s not a very complicated game and mere seconds after starting it I was running, jumping, and shooting through the first stage as though I’d been doing so for years. That’s not to say it was easy though, far from it. I’ve heard many complaints from gamers over the years about how tough these games are and they appear to be well founded! I feel sure though, that if I’d had an NES in my youth rather than an MS, this game would’ve occupied a lot of my time. The graphics are pretty good, the music is fantastic, but it really is superbly playable, not to mention addictive. Top stuff!

That’s it for now! These first five games have all been great fun to discover. Although I’ve played similar games to Dragon Warrior and Tecmo Super Bowl on my Master System, the others were not really something for which MS fans were catered. I’m not finished yet though. Given the rather extensive back-catalogue that NES owners enjoyed (and something the poor old Master System could certainly have done with), I’ll be covering five more games in the next part of this post along with a final verdict of the much-loved NES. Perhaps my fellow blogger, and Famicom collector, Sean, will be kind enough to suggest the next five? 😉

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Simon Lethbridge

Hello. :) I'm a 38 year old nerd from England, and I like lots of stuff, including retro video games, movies, sci-fi, and anime. This is the place where I will blabber on about them! At the very least, it will give me an excuse to try games/films that I keep putting off. Hope you like reading it! :)