1988, The year John McClane was too hard to die in Nakatomi Plaza, we learned not to say Beetlejuice 3 times, the California Raisins sang their way into our hearts, and the Nintendo Entertainment System was still selling like hot cakes.
My time with the Nintendo Entertainment System was very short lived. It’s really surprising when I look back at the actual years when that little gray box sat under the family television. It’s hold on my memories always seem to place me younger and it’s time longer than it really was. Between the years of 1986 to 1990, the NES ruled my world. I will go over each year with a top 5 (or more) list and even though there were bigger and better games those years, these are the games that helped put calluses on my thumbs.
1. Karnov (Data East)
How does this sound for Hero? A fire breathing, ex-circus strong man from eastern Russia who fights monsters, dinosaurs, and ostrich-riding skeleton warriors. To me that sounds like the most ’80s-like ’80s thing you could play, EVER. I can’t remember a plot, but I don’t think you need one when dealing with a hero the magnitude of Jinborov Karnovski . Karnov became the mascot of Data East and made appearances in some of their other games like Bad Dudes, but as a villain. Bad Dudes aside, Karnov will always be a bad ass hero to me.
2. Renegade (Taito)
Renegade or “Hot-Blooded Tough Guy Kunto” as it’s known in Japan, puts you in control of a vigilante named Mr.K. Mr. K wades through hordes of street gangs on a quest to find his girlfriend. Renegade used the same type of mechanics of the popular Tradewest game Double Dragon. I remember loving jump kicking fools and picking up their weapons after they drop them. I think I liked this game so much because it was easier than Double Dragon but offered the same butt kicking action.
3. Contra (Konami)
One of the biggest classics of the ’80s, Contra is one of the best side scrolling shooters of all time. Either as an homage or a spoof, the heroes aped the looks of Stallone and Schwarzenegger and they were fighting aliens, so this was an easy sell to a 12 year old boy. Our heroes, Bill and Lance could utilize their rifles in eight directions and ressing the D-pad downwards while standing will cause the character to lie down on his stomach, allowing him to avoid enemy fire and shoot low targets. Get game that helped to create new mechanics for the run-and-gun platform genre.
4. R.C. Pro-Am (Nintendo)
R.C. Pro-Am put you in control of a radio controlled car against three other opponents in what is one of the first combat tinged racers. This formula has served Nintendo very well over the years with their Mario Kart franchise. I had so much fun with this game even though it was plagued with dreaded “cheaters” that would shoot across the finish line at the last second and beat you. The game featured 32 tracks that offered every thing from ramps, oil slicks, and hairpin turns.
5. T&C Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage (LJN)
In 1988, T&C Surf Designs and their colorful cast of characters, known as “Da’ Boys” were at what seemed like the height of their popularity. So popular that they starred in their own video game for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Titled ‘Wood & Water Rage’, the game was a surfing and skateboarding game that included playable characters Thrilla Gorilla, Joe Cool, Tiki Man, and Kool Kat. Published by LJN, the game was incredibly hard and used a lot of cheap tricks to make it “challenging”.This game was hard, like really hard and would cheap shot you into a rage. (maybe that’s the rage from the title) Everything from Frisbees, Seagulls, and bottomless pot holes could turn your good day into your worse day. Oddly enough, I still own this game.
6. Rambo (Acclaim)
Yes, you are seeing John Rambo fighting a very large spider. So you know this is a faithful adaption of the movie Rambo: First Blood Part II. I saw an ad for this game when it came out that only showed Sly in all of his Rambo glory, firing an M60. That was enough for me. When it came time to play the game though I found it to be a confusing mess. It seem to take forever to even find a machine gun and when you did you only fought jungle animals, giant spiders and flying skulls (?!). I do remember there was one part later on when Rambo gets captured like in the film and you play as Cat to save him. It even required you to find a dress and pose as a prostitute. Perfect game for kids. Oh, but in the final fight against Murdoch, Rambo shouts at him and turns him into a frog…THE END.
7. Double Dragon (Tradewest)
I think Double Dragon was the first time I remember noticing how different games could be from the arcade to home. Well with this generation anyway because Atari games were never like their arcade brethren. Again, this game allowed you to pick up a bullwhip which is always a bonus for Indy fans. You could also throw people, knock them into pits, and use baseball bats on peeps. Missing from the arcade was the 2 player play and the team up attacks that set the game apart from others in the genre. But the home version had something that at the time was truly unique, Double Dragon’s “B” Mode. The Mode featured a 2 player fighting game that allowed you to choose between the hero and five villains of the game and have them fight each other.
8. Bionic Commando (Capcom)
Interesting fact, in Japan Bionic Commando is titled Hitler’s Revival: Top Secret…WTF. It’s amazing that after 28 years I can still learn odd tid bits about these games. Anyways, Bionic Commando was a platform game that removed the ability to jump but added a sweet bionic arm that could be used as a grappling hook to traverse the levels. Starring Ladd Spencer as the hero, his mission is to save Super Joe. Cool little Capcom crossover, Super Joe was the hero of the game Commando. I really dug this game and I played it non-stop whenever I would rent it from the local Mom-and-Pop. I still have great memories of hanging from my bionic arm and blasting fools from above.
9. Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo)
I remember I was sitting in my middle school lunch room when I cracked open the issue of Nintendo Power that highlighted the release of Super Mario Bros. 2. I was instantly in a vapor lock and in complete awe of how different this time out was gonna be. Of course the reasons for this are well known today, but in 1988 we had no idea. This time we could play four characters (Mario, Luigi, Toad, or Princess Peach) and the game featured brighter colors and a new “pick up” mechanic. Super Mario Bros. 2 was completely alien to the first installment and it taking place in a “Dream World” made the differences not so jarring. I still pop this game in today because it feels so different from the other games and history aside, it’s not a bad thing.
10. Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode (Vic Tokai)
I don’t remember what it was about this game or where I first saw it, but I NEEDED Golgo 13 when it came out. Based on the popular Japanese manga Golgo 13, players take control of Duke Togo and travel the world to eliminate the Drak Group. The game featured first-person mazes and first-person shooting and sniper missions that were vastly different than the platformers the NES was known for but the majority of the game was a side scroller akin to Rolling Thunder (Which I loved in the arcade) and side scrolling helicopter missions. The game had it all! Like the manga, the game featured violence, sex, and Togo’s trademark cigarettes which pushed the Nintendo Seal to the edge. I stumbled upon the manga years later and it took me a minute to put it together that it was the game I loved as a kid.
**Thanks to NESGuide.com for all the great YouTube videos**