I’m continuing the series I started earlier this month by sharing all of the NES related stories I submitted to Brett Weiss’s forthcoming NES Omnibus series. We’ll see which of these made the cut when it comes out!
Monster Party is a quirky little side scroller that allows you to play as either a baseball bat wielding boy or a lazer shooting monster named Bert. Regardless of who you’re using during gameplay, you’ll be bombarded by some the oddest enemies this side of BurgerTime. The colors, graphics and backgrounds of this title are gaudy and gory, which lends it some charm. The bosses are unique, and they always have something interesting, but often nonsensical, to say before they begin to attack. I found myself recently playing through & finishing Monster Party thanks to the game’s built in password system.
I was always intrigued by the box art, with its replications of well-known classic monsters (Is that Audrey II from Little Shop of Horrors I see?) smack dab on the cover. As a horror movie fan, this game was right up my alley. Sadly, I never had a chance to play it as a child. My luck would change when I found a copy at a northern Wisconsin flea market well into my fourth decade of life. Better late than never, right? I was not disappointed in the gameplay despite the red herrings present on the cover, such as a Dracula-looking character that you never actually fight. Then again, I’d rather fight a giant fried shrimp than a boring old vampire any day.
Pro Wrestling, part of the original black box sports series, was a game that really caught my eye early on in the NES life cycle. The front box art is an excellent representation of the look and feel of the real wrestling action, characters and special moves with the glaring exception of “who the hell is that wrestler with the red and yellow boots and mask?!?!” There is no character in the game that looks like that, which is confusing since the actual wrestlers in the game were likely programmed by the time the box art was commissioned for drawing. As kids, we all assumed that is what the game’s final wrestler, Great Puma, looked like since none of us could actually reach him to find out. However, the wonder of the internet has proven that theory to be wrong. Whoever he is, he looks pretty cool in contrast to the box cover’s other wrestler, Fighter Hayabusa. With his generic black boots and black wrestling trunks, there’s nothing about him that stands out. Regardless of the misleading cover art, the box alone was enough to sell me on Pro Wrestling’s charms since it ended up being one of the first games I asked for when I got my NES for Christmas in 1987.
RBI Baseball 3
As video games became more sophisticated, my expectations for what sports games could offer followed suit. Games that were groundbreaking only a few years prior, games such as Tecmo Bowl, Double Dribble, Ice Hockey and the first installment of RBI Baseball, felt like relics by the early 90s. I was desperate for the full MLB experience. Baseball Stars provided an excellent alternative reality, but I wanted an opportunity to take my home state team, the Milwaukee Brewers, to the pennant.
The third and final NES installment in the venerable RBI Baseball franchise was a huge leap in terms of graphics and depth of gameplay. Once I checked out the back of the box for RBI 3, I was immediately drawn to the fact that all MLB teams were represented instead of a small portion like in the first game. Not only was every team represented, this version included a complete and current roster of players! I couldn’t have been more excited to control my Brewer team for an entire 182 game season with up and comers like Gary Sheffield & Greg Vaughn alongside perennial all-stars like Paul Molitor and Robin Yount. Truly earning every penny I spent on this title, I would go on to play RBI 3 over and over again, completing season after season thanks to the password feature. This truly was the future of sports games and I was all in.
The Simpsons: Bartman Meets Radioactive Man
Considering that The Simpsons is my favorite television show of all time, I felt obligated (in a good way) to write about one of the many licensed Simpson games available for the NES. While the show has probably (definitely) gone on too long now, there’s no questioning its long lasting impact on popular culture. Like any die-hard Simpsons fan, I have my own personal list of favorite episodes of all time. Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of these favorite episodes can be found within the show’s first half dozen or so seasons. One of my all-time favorite Simpsons episodes, season 7’s Radioactive Man, may have aired after this game was released but I can’t help but think of that episode whenever I think of this game. The early to mid-90s was a time when The Simpsons had captured the zeitgeist of the era and they were inescapable. Video games included.
Bartman Meets Radioactive Man takes the Bartman character, Bart’s rule breaking, and nonconformist alter-ego, and thrusts him into a Radioactive Man comic in an effort to save his hero from the clutches of evil forces. Unfortunately the joy and humor of the episode didn’t translate into this game for me personally. The controls always felt a bit off and the game in general lacked the fun of the TV show, despite efforts to include Simpsons’ characteristically irreverent humor along the way. I guess Bartman Meets Radioactive Man will continue to remain as an overall disappointment to me despite its efforts to appeal to my inner geek. Yet another in a long line of Simpsons licensed video games that was unable to match the source material’s impact.
Super Mario Bros.
I had been playing video games in the arcades for a couple of years prior to my first encounter with Super Mario Bros on a Playchoice 10 machine. For me, arcade games were quick ways to spend quarters on something other than candy and soda. Nothing more, nothing less. I wasn’t very good at video games yet, and my feeble attempts would last only a few minutes which always left me feeling a little unfulfilled. Arcade games of the early ’80s were notoriously shallow which didn’t make them as appealing to me for extended playing sessions anyway. Your missions were murky, the screens repetitive and while this all has a certain nostalgic appeal and part of the reason why I still love early ’80s games and consoles, Super Mario Bros was different. You had a clear mission to save the Princess and the scrolling backgrounds while you progressed forward to the right gave you a distinct sense of accomplishment when you only marginally improved. Each area of a level you uncovered by advancing further to the right was like slowly working your way through a movie or book. You weren’t exactly sure what was going to be revealed to you which made the game exciting as well as challenging. The Playchoice 10 version of Super Mario Bros was great but it was more difficult than the home port on the NES as arcade games tend to be. Owning a copy of SMB for my NES meant never having to put a quarter in the machine to try and save the Princess again which was infinitely appealing to my childhood piggy bank.
Like many others, Super Mario Bros was the pack-in title when I finally got my NES for Christmas in 1987. The next few weeks included multiple SMB marathons and I’m grateful that my parents had two TV’s in the house so I could monopolize one of them during this period. What made playing this game at home such a communal event were the secrets held deep within. My friends and I would mentally and physically document each time we discovered a hidden power up, 1-up, vines that reached into the sky, pipes that you could descend and of course the warp zones. In 1987, the only way you could discover SMB’s multitude of secrets would either be trial and error or discussing among your friends on playgrounds or after school and weekend NES sessions. A typical session might involve 2-5 kids sitting around a TV watching someone play SMB while you mentally took notes when a player did something you’d never done before so you could try that either at home or when it was your turn. I was always proud of knowing many of the game’s secrets before the Nintendo magazines informed the masses. “Did you read how to get the infinite extra lives in level 3-1?” “Yeah, I discovered that a few months ago, it’s still cool though.” Infinitely cool, just like Super Mario Bros will always be for me.
Tecmo Super Bowl
What’s there to say about this iconic sports title that hasn’t already been said? A clear and obvious upgrade to an already amazing first entry in the series, Tecmo Super Bowl is just what the title says it is, super! With all of the NFL franchises, circa 1991, a battery save feature to keep track of your stats and a deep regular season mode to keep track of your progress towards a Super Bowl championship, this was the football simulation game that all of us fans of the NFL were waiting for. Not to mention having great 2 player action just like the original Tecmo Bowl!
Tecmo Super Bowl added cut scenes showing player injuries (don’t worry, no Joe Theismann-esque gruesomeness), spectacular plays and penalties. The only bad thing I can say about this game is the wonky battery. I remember numerous times that I would be half way or more through a season, turned on my Nintendo to get another game under my belt only to find out that my entire season had been erased. This didn’t just happen once or twice either. I recall either reading somewhere, probably the game’s manual, or hearing from someone that you were supposed to press restart & power simultaneously when turning off your Nintendo after saving your progress but I never noticed that it made a difference and promptly disregarded the advice as useless.
The Green Bay Packers were my team, but this was before their ’90s resurgence under Coach Holmgren, QB Brett Favre and DT Reggie White. The Packers of 1991 were a pretty middling bunch, and while it was significantly easier to win a Super Bowl with the Bills, Cowboys or 49ers, winning it all with my below average Packer team was the most rewarding way for me to help my home state team bring the Lombardi trophy back to the state of Wisconsin!
Nintendo’s iconic black box titles…..so pixelated, so simple, so black. These were the games that drew me in when I first became aware of Nintendo in 1986 and they still made up a large percentage of the games available for the system throughout much of 1987. Since these were Nintendo’s games (not 3rd party), they were the ones highlighted on the back of their console box and on the poster that came with the system. For a period of time, these titles were the only games that I knew existed for Nintendo. The black box titles carry a special place in my childhood memory as they were the games I obsessed over during the period of time that I yearned for a Nintendo. I would stare at the game boxes at the local Wal-Mart and imagine what the game would play like simply based on the description and the few screen shots provided on the back. I loved how the cover art attempted to actually reflect the look of the game inside instead of embellishing through overly elaborate art.
Despite this appeal, Urban Champion was not a game that I ever played in the ’80s. I didn’t know anyone that had a copy and while I was intrigued by it, by the time I received my NES for Christmas in 1987, there were way cooler games to obsess over. Once NES games started to become dirt cheap in the late ’90s at second hand stores such as Funcoland, Urban Champion was one of the first I picked up for a dollar or two in an effort to spark my nostalgia for the black box games and my pre-teen years. Let’s just say, while I have fun with this game on the occasions that I do play it, I’m thankful I didn’t drop $45 of 1987 money on it either. The gameplay is pretty shallow and because it’s not very difficult, I tend to get bored with it before my game ends. Not a good sign at all. That was kind of the M.O. for these early black box games, though. Repetitive gameplay reminiscent of golden age arcade games, but without the difficulty or the atmosphere.
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.