You win some, you lose some…
The original Nintendo Entertainment System holds a lot of nostalgia for older gamers, bringing back memories of a simpler time in life in which the only challenge we had was how to beg our parents to kick out $50 for a new game at Toys ‘R Us. The nostalgia and love for it is strong proven by the off-the-charts hype building for the upcoming NES Retro Mini console coming this fall, and people thought we wouldn’t see new hardware from Nintendo this year! Admittedly, I don’t have a lot of those same memories, as I really cut my gaming teeth during the Super NES / Genesis Console War era, but I do have a few that I can share.
Without further ado, a few NES games that overwhelmed me with disappointment rather than excitement… and how some have grown on me over time.
Super Mario Bros. 2
As the original Super Mario Bros. celebrates its 30th Anniversary, it is very hard to remember a time when it was not rightfully looked upon as anything from one of the best games ever made to the game that almost single-handedly resurrected the home video game market after the Atari crash in 1983. Looking back, you wonder if Nintendo also knew just how important the franchise was when it came time for the inevitable sequel.
Everyone knows the history of Super Mario Bros. 2, but here’s a quick recap just in case: the original game was so difficult, unpleasant to play, and nearly impossible to beat that Nintendo of America quickly took a little-known Japanese game named Doki Doki Panic and simply replaced the main characters with Mario ones and changed very little, if anything, else. The result was the “redheaded step child of the Mario series”, a game so different that many fans even to this day still refuse to give it a fair shake. Gone were the hitting question mark boxes, replaced by pulling up veggies and hurling them at weird looking red dwarfs with creepy plain white masks.
While it was still a hit, it was the lowest selling game in the Mario 8-bit and 16-bit franchise. People did not take to the drastic change from what they liked, and neither did I at the time. However, time has been kind to Super Mario Bros. 2, as many of its characters, such as Birdo and the aforementioned Shy Guys, have made many appearances in later Mario compilations and spin-off games, firmly becoming a part of the Mario legacy. As an older gamer, I can appreciate just how different it is; the stuff that turned me off to the game is what turns me on to it now, and anytime I see a visual or hear a musical reference to Super Mario Bros. 2—whether it’s from seeing the Shy Guys skate around in Mario Kart 8 to hearing the character select screen in the bonus jackpot rounds in Super Mario 3D World—it really makes me smile. When the original Super Mario Bros. 2 was released here in America as The Lost Levels (and later in its pure form on the Virtual Console for Wii, Wii U, and 3DS), Nintendo was probably correct in altering its release, because that game proved to be so difficult that it easily could have killed the franchise right then and there.
But for as out of the way Nintendo went to make Super Mario Bros. 2 easier for American gamers, they had no such concern for another sequel to a hit franchise…
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Hot on the heels of the wildly successful The Legend of Zelda came this sequel that tried to establish a new kind of game play into the still young franchise. Instead of the top-down point of view, Zelda II often changed into a more standard side-scrolling viewpoint not entirely different from what we were accustomed to in the Super Mario Bros. series.
When I got my grubby little hands on the Gold NES cart—another mislead on Nintendo’s part for making me think I was in for more of what I loved in the original—I was quickly thrown off by the abrupt changes from top-down to sidescrolling elements… the weird town layout… the inane dialogue with some of the villagers… and the still haunting game over screen with Ganon’s glowing eyes piercing into your soul.
That game over screen is one I would become very familiar with, because the main criticism of Zelda II is in its difficulty… this game is hard, and I mean VERY hard. Even going back and playing it on the Wii U Virtual Console, I still can’t beat it. Unlike Super Mario Bros. 2, the difficulty didn’t kill the Zelda franchise because the original was tough as well and not a cutesy platformer, but it was nowhere near this level of difficulty.
In retrospect, Zelda II has gained a fair number of fans. The game actually incorporated more RPG elements than most other games in the series, but Nintendo got the message that people were not enthralled and its next cannon entry, A Link to the Past on the Super Nintendo, returned to the style of game play that made the original so popular.
Any LJN Game
Being a big movie fan, I gravitated towards video games based on movies. Unfortunately, that meant I was destined for horrible games by one of the most infamous NES publishers: LJN. I owned almost all of their movie licensed games because, being a kid, I didn’t know any better.
You’d think I’d grow a brain and realize that the games sucked. Most had elements that didn’t even remotely come from the movie of the same name; from bees attacks in Back to the Future, to throwing rocks at Jason and dodging awful looking, repetitive zombies in Friday the 13th, to shooting arrow darts at stingrays in Jaws, and, last but not least, punching out snakes and spiders in A Nightmare on Elm Street… none of it tied into the movie and none of it was fun.
What also wasn’t fun? The amped up difficulty towards the end of almost every LJN game. A Nightmare on Elm Street and Who Framed Roger Rabbit in particular were so tough at the end that I couldn’t beat either without the help of the Game Genie (shhhhh!), and the reward for reaching the apex of victory? A lame, usually text-only, game over screen. Disappointing from top to bottom.
As an adult, I have a soft spot in my heart for these horrible games because they are so bad that I find them entertaining now. Dodging Jason’s attacks in a bizarre Mike Tyson’s Punch Out-style screen is hilarious. Seeing a monster shark like Jaws being barely bigger than the player itself is priceless. Using the same mechanic chopping motion to beat an endless parade of identical bullies in The Karate Kid is a sight to behold. LJN has went down in history as one of the worst companies ever, but if you look at the games through a Mystery Science Theater 3000 perspective… you at least get a bit of enjoyment out of them today that you may not have before.
Well, that’s it for this entry! What did you think of the games I mentioned? Was I unfairly tough on some games? What titles would you add to this list?