1989, we were drawing a close to the greatest decade ever. Tim Burton gave us one of the best comic movies to date with Batman, The Little Mermaid put Disney back on the blockbuster map, we traveled the world with Indy on the Last Crusade, and The Simpsons began their reign which is still going strong today.
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. Amagon (Vic Tokai)
Amagon, also know as Suddenly! Machoman in Japan, was a game that I couldn’t get enough of. Amagon capitalized on the ’80s motif of transformation. You play as a marine named Amagon who is stranded on a tropical island. Amagon needs to reach his rescue ship that is located on the other side of the island. To make things worse the island is teaming with mutant and supernatural creatures that are all out to get him. The ace up Amagon’s sleeve though is that when he collects the Megakey he can transform into Megagon, a herculean character that punches the crap outta monsters. When Amagon is a normal marine, he can fire a rifle and use it as a club when he runs outta bullets. For some reason I loved the hell outta this game and I wasn’t half bad at playing it. Extra points in coolness, the final boss was the Flatwoods Monster…now that’s awesome
2. Ninja Gaiden (Tecmo)
Ninja Gaiden had two separate lives, one in the arcade and one on the NES. I played the arcade version first and lost many, many quarters to its “Beat ’em Up” game play. When I saw in a gaming magazine that it was coming to the NES it made its way to the top of my Christmas list. When Christmas came, I was a tad disappointed that it was a totally different game. But that disappointment quickly turned into respect the more I played it. Ninja Gaiden used the tried and true platforming action that Castlevania made famous and upped the ante. Ryu used his katana and picked up other ninja equipment along the way to beat the many enemies that stood in his way. The story was very rich and featured a revenge story that quickly unfolds into a supernatural tale of saving the world from a demon. Ninja Gaiden was and is a very, very popular game that has aged like a fine wine and is still a challenging treat to play today.
3. Fist of the North Star (Taxan)
This game sucks, it has horrible graphics, glitchy gameplay, and a sound track straight from the Atari era. Ok now that is out of the way, let me explain why it’s on my list. Some how I stumbled onto the animated movie of Fist of the North Star and like most 13 year old boys I was smitten with the gratuitous gory violence. Usually that alone wouldn’t be enough for me to like a game, but I found this to be the only other thing in my small world to have the Fist of the North Star name. In the world of Fist of the North Star, the best fighters in the world could make people explode in glorious fists of fury, blood spurting fountains with a few simple strikes to their pressure points. In the NES game the exploded into pixel blocks devoid of any color resembling red. It was slightly empowering to be able to jump high and punch people with enough force to have them fly off screen, right off the bat. No mushrooms or power-ups needed here.
4. Operation Wolf (Taito)
I was obsessed with Operation Wolf in the arcade. With it’s Mac-10 gun controller and handy grenade button on the grip, I was in heaven every time I stepped up to this cabinet. Now the NES version used the not often used light gun, but for some reason I found it problematic. So I used the NES controller and learned to make my thumbs very, very fast. The graphics weren’t as crisp and the gameplay was sluggish but I didn’t care. You played as Special Forces Operative Roy Adams as he made his way through six stages to save POWs trapped in a concentration camp. I saved a lot of quarters after I picked this game up.
5. Adventures of Bayou Billy (Konami)
I think it was the boxes artwork that drew me in to this game. The dude had a huge knife and after flicks like Rambo and Crocodile Dundee, we know that’s how you solve real problems. After being led in with the box I found a very fun game that used many different mechanics and game play features. For most of the game you played a side scrolling “Beat ’em Up”, but other levels included driving Billy’s jeep and rail shooting. The plot of the game pitted Billy against the mobster Godfather Gordon and his goons, to save Billy’s kidnapped girlfriend Annabelle. The game took place in the swamps and streets of New Orleans and had Billy using his fists, feet, knives, guns, and a bullwhip (extra points). Bayou Billy was also featured on a few episodes of the Captain N cartoon and they painted him as a redneck rube from the swamp, not the ex-military vigilante he was in the game.
6. Mega Man 2 (Capcom)
I shied away from a couple sequels on the previous lists because a lot were great but stayed very close to the original games. With Mega Man 2, it wasn’t only great it redefined the whole Mega Man experience. It used the same gameplay mechanics and formula but it fleshed out the world with bigger, colorful cast of robotic monsters and new boss villains. The game also gave Mega Man new abilities and made his use of the powers gained from the villains more important to the story. Hands down this was a bigger and better game than Mega Man and I remember staying up all hours of the night playing it. Well, I kinda hand too to get the most outta my rental dollar.
7. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Konami)
Anyone who knows me, knows that I’m a huge fan of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic. In extension, I’m a fan of all TMNT stuff. When this game came out the first TMNT cartoon was in full swing but Konami suckered me in by using the cover art of the re-print of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #4.It was great to play the Turtles on the NES, but I did (and still do)find this game hella hard. It had a very normal action platform approach but used a lot of cheap hits to whittle down your health. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles brought all of the TV shows characters to life, good and bad. One interesting aspect of the game was the top down map sections that led to the side scrolling missions, mostly through sewers and factories. Either way it’s a part of TMNT history so I adore it, warts and all.
8. Strider (Capcom)
Set in the dystopian future of 2048, Strider starred the hero Hiryu as a ninja-like Strider. Striders were used in wetwork operations such as smuggling, kidnapping, demolitions, and assassinations. Seeing corruption, Hiryu sets out to topple his employers organization. Great set-up for a great game. Strider uses a couple new mechanics not seen before in a NES game. One being the random warp pipes that could take you either further ahead in the game or send you back to an earlier level that you had to progress through again. Also Hiryu’s weapon, the Cypher was unique and cool. Another awesome aspect of the game was the use of the NES password system, each time the player requests a password, the game ends with a brief description of the game’s progress so far (which depends of Hiryu’s current level) and gives a title for Hiryu’s next adventure, similar to a television show or comic book. This game sadly was a title that showed the power of the advanced Sega Genesis when it arrived on the market in 1990.
9. Duck Tales (Capcom)
What can I say about this game that hasn’t already been said. I honestly didn’t realize the popularity of this game until they made the super-duper HD remake a few years back. I knew I loved it, but then I heard the whole world loved it. Duck Tales is a big deal around my house and it has been since the cartoon was first released. This game did the source material proud with is a rarity in the video game world. Duck Tales was really fun and had just the right amount of challenge to it. Outta all the games on the lists I’ve written, this is one I proudly play on my cell phone every chance I get. Big props to Capcom for another awesome game that has stood the test of time.
10. P.O.W. (SNK)
P.O.W. or Prisoners of War was another “Beat ’em Up”, this time you are the P.O.W. and you have to save yourself. The genre of the “Beat ’em Up” was becoming more and more popular in the arcade and any game where I play that from the comfort of home was tops in my book. What I liked most about this game was of course the hand-to-hand action but also the ability to pick up weapons. You could also go into the small buildings and huts to pick up weapons and power-ups, but you could also walk into a hornets nest of enemies. This was also a game that fell on the easier side for me so that was always something I liked.
**Thanks to NESGuide.com for all the great YouTube videos**