Like many NES kids with few titles in their library and plenty of free time on their hands, I wanted to finish, or beat, every game possible. The upside to gaming in the 8 bit era was that games typically didn’t require 50-100 hours of gameplay before a player could conceivably finish them like so many do now. NES games only required a mastery of the gameplay, not hours and hours of available time (even though sometimes they did take hours and hours to master). The downside of attempting to finish NES games is that they often didn’t include save locations, battery packs or passwords which meant you needed to complete a game in one sitting if you wanted to see the ending. There’s a reason that the term “NES tough” was coined.
The games in this post are all titles I finished as a kid either as the owner of the game or while borrowing or renting them. Admittedly, it’s not a very long list and there are a number of games I came so close to finishing but for various reasons, could not.
I was able to finish all three Super Mario Brothers titles for the NES during their heyday. I already mentioned the original SMB during my first Game of the Week post, beating Gannon and saving the Princess on my birthday in January of 1988. I saved up the following summer that same year to purchase Super Mario Bros 2 as soon as it was released. I had loved the first SMB so much and had read about SMB2 in Nintendo Power’s premier issue in July 1988 so by the time it was released a couple of months later I felt like I had a head start. The gameplay was significantly different than that first SMB and of course at the time I had no idea that SMB2 was simply a remake of an existing Japanese game called Doki Doki Panic with just the inclusion of Mario, Luigi, Princess and Toad instead of the characters the game was originally designed for. As a result of the drastically different gameplay, there was a learning curve to beating it but it certainly was user friendly and looked great. SMB2 may have its haters because of being so different but I will always think highly of this game and its ending (spoiler alert, it was all a dream!)
When Super Mario Bros 3 came out in 1990 I was already beginning to feel like I’d grown out of video games as a 15 year old high schooler. 2 years can make a big difference when you’re a pre-teen/teenager and while I still enjoyed video games, I wasn’t as psyched for the release of this title like I was for SMB2. I eventually bought SMB3 used after having rented and borrowed it off and on for the year or so after its release. The game was larger and more expansive than its predecessors and for a then casual gamer, it took me awhile to finally finish it. I honestly don’t remember the exact ending to SMB3 anymore after about 25 years. I guess I need to beat it again to remind myself! Regardless, its an obvious masterpiece.
Like the Super Mario Bros franchise, the Legend of Zelda franchise was a favorite of mine as well during my NES years. I received my copy of The Legend of Zelda in the spring of 1988 and while I don’t remember exactly when I finished it by defeating Gannon and restoring the triforce, I do remember how confusing the final dungeon (aka level 9) was. I also remember thinking to myself, “Is this a glitch?” whenever Gannon would disappear. I was not used to fighting a boss that was only visible for very short periods of time. Of course I just kept stabbing away with my magical sword until I stunned him, allowing me to hit him with the silver arrow. What a great game but an odd boss battle.
Odd boss battles would apparently be a staple for the NES Zelda franchise. Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link was finally released for the NES in late 1988 but I don’t recall exactly when I received my copy but it was likely sometime in 1989 as I don’t think I would have been able to hold out on playing the sequel to my favorite NES title of all time for too long! Chip shortages be damned, when I finally got my copy and began playing it I of course noted how different it was from the first Zelda in regards to it’s variety of gameplay (top down overworld and side scrolling temples) with RPG elements such as talking to townspeople to gather information and leveling up your life, magic and fighting abilities. This was my first experience with these RPG staples. Since this title is a direct sequel to the first Zelda and Gannon is dead, who do you have to defeat in order to finish the game? None other than yourself as shadow Link who I remember thinking was a very tough opponent, tougher than Gannon at least. Even more than SMB2, Zelda 2 divides gamers due to these differences and punishing difficulty. It is beatable, of course, because I did it.
To complete the theme of odd-ball sequels, next in my beaten list is Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest. Castlevania 2 is the only NES Castlevania I have finished (for shame). Castlevania 2 is a departure from its predecessor as it combines RPG elements and side scrolling action (sound familiar?) Now I don’t have the hate for Castlevania 2 like so many do but that’s likely due to the rose colored glasses I wear while playing this game thanks to Nintendo Power. Nintendo Power offered invaluable tips and clues to solve the inscrutable and vaguely alluded to puzzles in order to advance and ultimately beat the game. Many blame the poor localization which I’m certain is a big reason why the clues given by the townspeople simply don’t make sense. I also think the game is just hard in that “NES tough” pre-internet and walkthrough/strategy guide sort of way. The actual gameplay isn’t as challenging as the first Castlevania thanks to the password system and it’s easy bosses, especially Dracula. Once you put Dracula back together with all of his scattered body parts (gross but cool to a 13 year old), the big guy is a piece of cake to beat. I honestly assumed there would be another boss after him once I easily finished him off. Dracula couldn’t be this easy, right? I guess, so. Still a great game in my opinion but not as good as Castlevania 1 or 3.
Another 80’s Konami classic, Contra was defeated thanks to two factors. 1: the infamous Konami code (up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, B, A, start for the uninitiated) giving the player 30 lives and 2: combining the extra lives with a second player in co-op mode. Contra was definitely beatable thanks to these two factors which I did with my friends numerous times. This was a staple when playing NES with friends because you could involve two players at once, reducing the amount of sitting around watching people play that so many other side scrolling titles required.
The first Mega Man game I owned was Mega Man 2 when it was released in 1989 and this game remains my favorite of the franchise not only because it’s tied to many childhood memories but also because I think it’s the best game out of the 6 released for the NES. All Mega Man games are known for their high level of difficulty but unlike the first Mega Man, Mega Man 2 includes a password save making the game infinitely more beatable than the first. The password doesn’t make the gauntlet of Dr. Wily’s castle any easier to conquer as it all must be completed in one sitting/playthrough. By the time you get to Wily’s castle, you will have all of the weapons at your disposal and knowledge of what weapon to use when you re-fight all of the original bosses. Once you get to Dr. Wily, you’ll have to keep your calm and defeat him with whatever life you have left after the boss gauntlet. What a great ending to this masterpiece.
The next two games on my beaten list are two of the original “Adventure series” games in the silver packaging, Metroid and Kid Icarus. I’m not going to go too in depth into Metroid as that is a future Game of the Week, but I have beaten this classic and gotten the various endings including the “Samus is a woman!” ending. I do recall being surprised at that secret and gamers today going back and playing through Metroid won’t likely have the luxury of ignorance. The second game from the “Adventure series” that I’ve beaten is Kid Icarus. Kid Icarus was always an interesting game for me with its vertical scrolling levels combined with castles filled with egg plant throwers and Greek mythological creatures. The final boss is a humongous Medusa shooting lasers out of her eyes! I do enjoy Kid Icarus and consider it a classic even though I haven’t played through it in nearly 30 years.
Crystalis is the last beaten game on this list and one of the premier 90’s titles for the NES. An unheralded classic in The Legend of Zelda vein (RPG/Adventure), Crystalis is a futuristic tale that forces you to solve puzzles more than requiring actual combat, although there is plenty of that as well. It’s basically a spiritual successor to Zelda in a way that Zelda 2 never was and maybe that’s why I consider Crystalis one of the top 10 NES games of all time. I owned a copy of this upon its release as I thought it looked great and I must have read an article in Nintendo Power explaining what kind of game it was. I was eager to play anything “Zelda-like” and I probably purchased it in 1991 after getting an after school job and some spending cash. In retrospect, I’m thrilled to have owned, played and finished Crystalis at the time of its release and the complete copy I own today is my original.
There are certainly other games I have finished/beaten for the NES such as Kung Fu and Commando but I don’t necessarily count those like I do the games listed above. Sports titles generally don’t count in my book either, so winning the Super Bowl or World Series doesn’t mean I’ve “beaten” that particular game. There is one significant exception to this sports game rule and that’s Mike Tyson’s Punch Out. I also won’t go into detail about this future Game of the Week, but all I can say is “I think I can beat Mike Tyson” (let me know if you get the reference).
Currently in my collection:
Castlevania 2: Simon’s Quest – game, manual, box B+
Contra – game only A
Crystalis – game, manual, box A+
Kid Icarus – game only A-
Mega Man 2 – game, manual, box A+
Super Mario Bros 2 – game, manual, box A
Super Mario Bros 3 – game, manual A+
Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link – game, manual, box A