I’ve been tapped to write up some stories for author Brett Weiss’s latest installments of his Omnibus series of books. These books comprehensively cover a single video game console’s entire North American library of games. He’s already released two volumes of his SNES Omnibus and he had now moved on to the NES console for his next series.
Brett wanted to get “insider” stories for his NES books, and considering that the NES is the console that is nearest and dearest to my heart as well as the system I have the most nostalgic stories associated with, it was a no brainer for me to participate. I’m going to use the next couple of posts to share the stories I’ve written for these books in the event they get edited for content or are not used at all.
Baseball Stars was the most fun I’d ever had with a baseball game as a kid. While it didn’t include MLB licensed teams and players, the game made up for it by offering players an extremely deep franchise mode that allowed you to create and name your own team & players. The names of my players were heavily influenced by hip hop circa 1989-1990. “Now batting 3rd, Chuck D from Public Enemy!”
You had a limited amount of money at the start of the game to develop your lineup and as you progressed and won games, you would earn more money which you would then use towards improving your players’ skills. Baseball Stars was at its most difficult when you were just getting started & winning games required serious skill. 4-3 final scores weren’t unheard of during these challenging early seasons. The best, but often the most intense, way to improve your team was to take on friends who were also in the same boat as you in terms of player development. The stakes were extremely high in these one on one match-ups with friends in league play since the winning team earned cash to improve their team, while the losing team received nothing. Lose too many of these one on one match-ups against your friends and it wouldn’t be long before their team was too strong for you to even compete with!
By the time you were onto season 3 or 4 with the same team, every one of your batters could routinely hit 30+ home runs per season, flirt with a batting average around 0.500 (or higher) and pitchers could throw 100 mph well into the 5th or 6th innings. The only complaint I had with Baseball Stars is the same I had with Tecmo Super Bowl regarding battery saves. There were many times when I would pop the game in to play only to find out that the battery decided that all of my (and my friend’s) progress had to go.
Donkey Kong Classics
Donkey Kong Classics is a completely unnecessary compilation of two of Nintendo’s most famous arcade hits, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. These titles were already a bit long in the tooth when they were originally released on the NES as part of the Arcade Series, so you can imagine how the public felt about them in ’88. Indifferent. On top of that, I always wondered why Nintendo only included two games on this collection. Couldn’t Donkey Kong 3 find its way onto the cartridge as well and give fans of the series yet another incentive to purchase? Maybe that was by design considering how unpopular Donkey Kong 3 actually was.
Nevertheless, I bought Donkey Kong Classics for dirt cheap in the late 90s when 8-bit gaming was being heavily looked down upon and prices of games were the cheapest they had ever been. I was happy to have (arguably) the two best home console versions of these iconic games in my collection in one compact cart. If you’re not a completionist, this is the NES game to get if you like the home versions of these two titles.
Donkey Kong Jr.
Donkey Kong Jr is of course, the sequel to Donkey Kong and was nearly as popular in the arcades as its predecessor. Or at least that’s how I saw it. The cocktail cabinet of DK Jr was all over my neck of the woods when I was a kid in the ‘80s. Pizza parlors, sub shops, mini-arcades in the back of gas stations, you name it. Donkey Kong Jr was there as a sit down machine for me to place my can of pop and my slice of pizza on while I moved Jr up and down those jungle vines to rescue dear old dad from that mustachioed sadist. I never thought too much about it as a kid, but this game is definitely notable for being one of the rare instances where Mario is seen as a video game villain.
The NES version of Donkey Kong Jr is pretty darn faithful to the arcade but by the time I finally picked up a copy for myself, I had already owned a version of it for the Colecovision that I thought was awfully good as well. I always found this game to be a bit easier than its predecessor and gravitated towards it as a result. Simple controls and challenging but uncomplicated level designs were DK Jr’s strengths. All of this transfers over nicely to the NES port.
Ghosts ‘n Goblins
I distinctly recall buying Ghosts ‘n Goblins from a schoolyard acquaintance who was looking to unload it so he could buy a different NES game. This is how most middle school aged kids could afford to buy new games, by selling off the ones they already grew tired of. At this point in early 1988, I only had a few games in my collection, Super Mario Bros, Tennis and Ice Climber. I wanted a new title badly and even though Ghosts ‘n Goblins wasn’t at the top of my wish list, I was willing to spend some of my paper route money to have his copy just to get something new. Anything, really. I remember playing the game here and there in the arcades and recall it being extremely difficult but I was hopeful that the NES port would be a tad more forgiving. My hopes were dashed almost immediately when Knight Arthur first got his armor knocked off of him by a zombie, then a swooping bird turned him into a pile of bones within seconds of picking up the controller. Sad to say, that while I still have nostalgia for this game, most of it is shrouded in frustration and disappointment.
The Legend of Zelda
I don’t think there are many NES kids out there without distinct memories of discovering and playing The Legend of Zelda. After all, it was the original groundbreaking action adventure that introduced characters such as Link, Princess Zelda and Gannon to the Nintendo Universe. More importantly, it established the NES as THE gaming platform for open world adventure games that were too large and expansive to complete in one sitting. A battery placed inside the cartridge allowed players to save their progress so they could pick up where they left off if they needed to stop playing to do homework, go to school or go to bed. You know, real life stuff.
My earliest memories of The Legend of Zelda revolve around the first commercials that Nintendo put out to promote the game. One in particular I recall showed a seemingly deranged man blurting out the names of the various enemies, “Octorocks!”, “Tektites!”, “Leevers!” while briefs clips of Link wandering around Hyrule were interspersed. Needless to say, this commercial left a lasting impression, even if wasn’t a terribly positive one. Eventually, I began to hear things about The Legend of Zelda from friends that had their NES a few months before me and I was starting to warm up to the idea of getting the game for myself. I believe I finally got my own copy as an Easter gift in 1988 and by then, I knew enough kids with the game to already have a general idea of how to play, no thanks to those confusing commercials. Thankfully, I didn’t know all the secrets before I even got to own and play my copy. The best part of playing The Legend of Zelda through for the first time was the sense of discovery and finding out secrets yourself. There was so much to see and so much to do that my initial feeling of being overwhelmed by the game soon turned into a sense of awe as it all started to click. The Hyrule overworld map that came with the game quickly became filled with notes of locations to bomb, where to use the candle to burn bushes, locations of heart containers, locations of dungeons, etc. When it was all said and done, this map ended up looking like a hieroglyphic filled cheat sheet. Once Gannon was defeated, the second quest kept me challenged for another several months afterwards. A brilliant way to keep the game fresh a little bit longer.
The Legend of Zelda remains my all-time favorite NES game for the way it created a world for you to literally and figuratively get lost in (the lost woods anyone?) I will always remember the game for the way it introduced me to and hooked me on action-adventure-RPG style games and if I’m being honest, any adventure featuring Link, Princess Zelda, Gannon or Hyrule.
As an avid fan of arcade games, then and now, the idea of getting the latest and greatest arcade titles at home wasn’t anything new in 1986, but certainly no one could deny how GOOD these Nintendo ports of arcade games looked! One particular game caught my eye, however, and that game was Mario Bros. This was one of the few games located in the entrance to my local mom and pop grocery store for months and months, draining quarters from me and my friend’s pockets after school, on weekends and during the summer of 1986-1987. Seeing the box for Mario Bros. staring back at me from store shelves immediately told me that the NES was a console that would have at least one game that I would thoroughly enjoy. Something I didn’t notice back then, but do now, is that the artist for the Mario Bros. box art didn’t exactly follow the proper color scheme for our favorite plumber’s attire. On the box, Mario is wearing a light blue shirt under blue suspenders and a blue cap as opposed to the red shirt and cap that he wears in the game itself. Clearly I’ve played this game enough to notice these minor details but thankfully this mistake has no bearing on the gameplay.
As good as I was at the game, I was never as good as my best friend growing up and that fact was proven when we’d play 2-player co-op and my game would inevitably end sooner than his. As a result of his superior gaming skills, he would always claim player-1, which was Mario, naturally. That relegated me to player-2, Luigi, whose name wasn’t even in the title of the game. I was just Mario’s brother, after all.
The title screen music to Metroid is stark and foreboding. It’s an electronic space lullaby that perfectly prepares the player for the type of adventure they are about to embark on. Originally marketed as part of Nintendo’s “Adventure series” in silver packaging, Metroid was an expansive password enhanced game released concurrently with other adventure games such as Kid Icarus and The Legend of Zelda. This was the period of time in the NES’s life span where Nintendo was gaining traction with kids as a must own toy. By 1987, the original black box games (with the exception of Super Mario Bros) were starting to show their age since most of them were developed several years prior for the Japanese Famicom. Nintendo developers were pushing the system’s limits with enormous worlds providing players multiple paths to explore and it’s exactly what early adopters of the NES were looking for.
Metroid’s plot includes numerous homages to the Alien movie franchise including the use of a female protagonist which wasn’t immediately apparent to players until they finished the game with a good ending. Metroid changed the rules of side scrollers by teaching players that left to right movement wasn’t your only option. One of the first things you have to do in order to progress to the right is go left and retrieve a power-up allowing Samus to roll into a ball. Additional power-ups can be found throughout the game giving Samus new skills that will be imperative to finishing the game. There are also two mini-bosses, Kraid and Ridley, that you will battle before the final boss fight against Mother Brain. You have to fight Mother Brain while avoiding the energy sucking Metroids and bubbles (?!?!) that knock you into the toxic cauldron. The final escape from the plant provides an extra level of intensity to what was already intense battle which can be soul crushing if you are unable to climb the top of the tower in the allotted time. Most of us probably have a moment of disbelief and shock when we somehow lose the game AFTER defeating the final boss!
In the summer and fall of 1987 when I was at my peak NES obsession before owning my own console, I would stare at and read the backs of the game boxes while at my local Wal-Mart. Back then, NES games were not always shrink-wrapped and instead were hung up on store racks using hang tabs on the back of the boxes. This meant that anyone could open the game box and look inside. I must have been so interested in this particular game that I felt compelled to open up the box and read the manual right there in the store! I pored over the contents of the manual every time I visited the store, in bite sized chunks to avoid getting caught, and putting it back in the box after 2-3 feverish minutes of reading. I couldn’t understand how it was possible to have such an open world set-up in a video game. The concept was so drastically different from what I was familiar with playing games like Donkey Kong, Galaga and Ms. Pac Man. Arcade gaming had not prepared me for this! Once I finally got my NES and my Super Mario Bros obsession waned, Metroid was one of the early games I first rented then finally owned. It was all I could have imagined when I was slyly reading the manual in my local Wal-Mart. One of the flagship titles and franchises that got its start on the NES.
Mike Tyson’s Punch Out
“He’s Hurt Me Doc!”…..”Join the Nintendo Fun Club Today Mac.”
Doc really didn’t seem to know what he was doing when it came to coaching and training Little Mac and he probably should have been reprimanded for putting a tiny 17 year old boxer up against grown men twice his age and weight. Realism, or lack thereof, aside, it is still one of the undeniable classics for the NES.
My first recollection of playing Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! was at a friend’s house as I did not have my NES in the fall of 1987 when the game was released. I hadn’t read much about it, but a boxing game seemed interesting to me, so I inserted the cart and gave it a shot without reading the manual. The first fight against Glass Joe is intended to give new players a warm-up and practice the control scheme of right-left uppercuts, right-left body blows, blocking and dodging. You also learn that if you throw too many punches that get blocked, you will get tired and you must dodge your opponent’s punches without the ability to counter until you recover. Embarrassingly enough, I do recall losing to Glass Joe on my first attempt and that’s not a fact I would volunteer if I didn’t have the Heavyweight Title belt to my name.
Every heavy weight title bout against Tyson was a sweaty palm and intensely focused battle. You needed extremely calm nerves to get through the first 1:30 of his lightning punches that would knock you on your butt if you flinched and missed the timing to dodge. You could defeat Tyson by decision with 5000 or more points scored and I believe this was the method I employed when I first took him down. I no longer recall who was the first out of my friends to beat Tyson, but it was then, and still is today, one of those gaming accomplishments I hang my hat on, 30+ years later. Since that first victorious bout, I have been able to TKO him several times but there is no guarantee when I fight him today that I will win. I played this game a lot as a rental before finally buying my used copy a couple years after its release. It was always one of my favorites thanks to the fun and colorful characters, and the way you have to learn their distinctive tells before you’re able to knock them out, which is still so satisfying.
Below is the original biography that I provided to Brett for my write-ups, only to find out he wanted a simple one liner. Oh well!
Jason Breininger has been a gamer since the mid-80s, spending nearly every hard earned quarter in local arcades. Receiving a NES for Christmas in 1987 sparked his lifelong love of video gaming and took it to the next level – as an avid collector of all things retro-gaming. Now a freelance writer that specializes in retro gaming, music, and classic horror with contributions to VHSRevival.com as well as his own blogs, CartridgeCorner.blog and PressRewind.net. Jason also hosts his own music based podcast, Press Rewind. Currently the Press Rewind podcast is reviewing the lyrical content of every song recorded by the musician, Prince.