Ah yes, the old NES! We all had games we loved and still reminisce about, but face it. After we beat those games, there wasn't anything fun (or as fun) about them anymore. Sure you could try to wake up princess Zelda without dying once or try to run through the Mushroom Kingdom again without warping this time, but eventually these games would be relegated to the bottom of the shelf (Or in my case, caseless in the dusty underside of the sofa). Yet, there were some games that I played which never died, no matter how many times I played them.
What exactly was it about these games that allowed them to live on? A simple feature known as 2-player simultaneous play could be used and abused to breathe new life into the game. While many of them exist, today I will highlight my favorite ten for you.
Okay this was actually a four player game, but convincing three other people to want to play it with you would have been impossible. The premise for this game is interplanetary colonization, and you claim plots of land on planet Irata (Atari spelled backwardsc leading me to believe that this game may have originally been programmed for the Atari 7800, especially with those crappy graphics.) You choose what to develop on the plots, food, energy, and crystite, and based on supply and demand you try to amass the most cash among the four players. Ideally you were supposed to work together to get the good ending (you create a successful colony and become the governors of Irata.). You did this by always selling to the general store, and never buying from it. If you need food or energy, then one of the other players should have sold it to you cheaper than the general store. That way you can maximize the amount of cashflow in the colonists hands, which would give you a better ending. But since the ending was only text, no one gave a shit.
Thus the game resulted in trying to screw your competitors out of their cash by creating shortages in the general store, then hitting them hard when they need supplies.
It had speech ala gauntlet Red Humanoid!, Purple Mechtron!, Yellow Gollimer and tricked kids (who had the patience to play it) into learning about economics.
9. Bases Loaded
This is a simple baseball game. Most baseball games show the game from the vantage point behind the batter. This game shows it from the camera behind the pitcher, just like on TV! Furthermore, this was probably the first game that had semi realistic looking players. All other baseball games up to this point had super deformed midget players and difficult game play. Bases loaded simplified it by making batting all about timing, and rewarding you for having patience at the plate. The strike zone in Bases Loaded was TINY! The batter could swing to hit one of 9 areas (corresponding to the 8 directions on the D pad, and the neutral position), but you only needed to swing at things that could be hit cleanly with up, neutral or down. Almost everything else was a ball. Of course, each batter had differing "sweet zones" that only a seasoned player would know, so often you'd swing at stuff way out of the strike zone just in case that was where your sweet zone was.
You could piss off your opponent’s clean up hitter by beaning him twice in a row, and he’d go charge at your pitcher and kick his ass! This would result in the batter being thrown out of the game, and your opponent without his best hitter. Best of all, the umpire talked! This was almost unheard of in any kind of NES games at the time. There were 12 different teams, some in cities which had MLB and others in cities which did not. Either way, I familiarized myself with Ace pitcher Gantos and his team from Philly and their arch rivals, DC. And who could forget the umpires’ names? Behind the plate was Yuk, with Dum at first, Boo at second, and Bum at third!
8. Chip N Dale’s Rescue Rangers
This game was loosely based on the cartoon show of the same name. Only you weren’t doing detective work, you were picking shit up and throwing it. Chip and Dale would go through all these levels with animation that rivaled the Mega-Man series (3 at that point).
But here’s where the fun starts, you can pick up the other player! Once you got bored of this game, it became all about picking up the other player and throwing him down bottomless pits or purposefully making him get hit by flying enemies. Haha, Gadget is mine, douchebag!
7. Ikari Warriors
This was one of the first 2p simultaneous games to come out on the NES. It was simple, Ralph and Clark are the legendary Ikari warriors and their plane crashes down in the jungle behind enemy lines. They decide to go on this impossible mission to kill the enemy HQ, all the while collecting lots of fun weapons and riding in tanks. If you died along the way, not to worry, hitting ABBA would revive you! The only fault with this game was that it was impossible to beat even with the infinite lives you had. Amazingly that code stopped working on the last level.
Nonetheless, this vertical scroller got people in the mood for 2 player carnage, at least until the release of a much better two player commando game.
6. Life Force
This was the sequel to Gradius, and 2 player simultaneous play breathed a lot of life into a game that otherwise would have only been slightly better than the first. The story is that you are flying spaceships into the body of this huge space salamander and flying through all its bodily systems, such as his digestive system, nervous system, skeletal system, and uh, Egyptian/Moai system. Ifm kinda glad that the digestive system level only took you as far as his volcanic stomach.
You destroy vital organs until you get to the heart. After destroying the heart, he dies, and you win. (I think I remember that from another game.) Another good point about this game is that you can customize your ship with several different kinds of power ups, like missiles, force shields, and lazers. It also alternated between side scrolling and top scrolling levels.
A little bit of teamwork would carry you far, but if you got tired of working together, there wasn’t much you could do other than hogging all the power-ups and stealing your partner’s option (a kind of ghost ship) when he died. That aside, this game was quite good.
5. Mario Bros.
Not Super Mario Bros., but the original Mario Bros. Most people these days don’t even know this game exists. Anyway the premise is simple. Mario and Luigi are plumbers and they have to go kill all these monsters that live in the sewers, and collect coins. The way to kill the monsters is to hit them from below a platform, then kick them with your feet. You worked as a team trying to get through all the different phases in the game, and the monsters got stronger and stronger.
However, this game turned to absolute carnage once you and your buddy got tired of working together and decided to try to kill each other. You could push the other Mario bro, jump on his head to make him immobile, hit him from below to force him to jump, or, hit an off balance monster from below, just at the point when your partner was about to kill the monster. OR, you could abuse the POW at just the right time, to cause instant death! You may have only gotten up to stage 2 this way, but sibling rivalry at its best could be acted out in this game. Not gonna let me play with Optimus Prime, eh? I’ll feed you to the crabs then, ya jerk!
Check out the seriously silly commercial that copied the theme song to the TV series Car 54 Where Are You? here on Retro Junk.
4. Tecmo Super Bowl
This is a simple football game in appearance, but actually the best football video game ever made. I still whip this bad boy out (okay so I use an emulator) and play it now and then. Other games tried to capture the NFL on the NES but usually failed. Some of them would have real NFL players but fake teams. Some of them would have the real teams with fake players, or even worse, nameless players. This game had the real teams with accurate rosters. This was the 1991 NFL.
Bo Jackson, Joe Montana, Christian Okoye, yes, they are all there. I donft suspect many of the people on retro stuff remember much about the 1991 NFL season, but that year also adds some good nostalgia for me because Mark Rypien, Earnest Byner, the posse, and the rest of my Redskins won the superbowl in 1991, and that's the roster that got immortalized!
The gameplay is very simple compared to its more complicated counterparts (the annoying Madden series for example). Playing against any opponent, a certain amount of luck was needed, and you could hold whole seasons with your friends. For all your football gaming needs Tecmo Super Bowl is about the best it gets.
But if you got bored of just straight football, you could try to humiliate your opponent by scoring with your QB on a passing play. Repeatedly. Onsides kicking all the time. Calling the same play over and over again, until he notices. Convincing your brother that the Patriots were the best team in 1991 and laughing at how horrible Steve Grogan is. Beating your brother, having purposefully chosen Steve Grogan and the Pats. Beating your brother exclusively on Steve Grogan touchdowns!
Steve Grogan really is bad. In fact his backup was much better than him. Just look at how Grogan compares to Joe Montana in the pics above.
3. Double Dragon II
The Double Dragon trilogy on the NES is very much like the Star Wars trilogy. Double Dragon II is the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy. (If you don’t get the analogy, Double Dragon was pretty good, Double Dragon II was GREAT, and III was so-so.) Between 1 and 2 there was this nuclear war in the infamous year 19XX that turned the sky lots of interesting colors rather than giving everyone cancer and making their hair fall out. Some people became able to teleport because of the radiation. Yeah, BS! Anyway.
This time Jimmy Lee, the boss of Double Dragon 1 joins his brother as they try to rescue Billy Lee’s GF again. You think she’d carry a gun or something, but whatever. Rather than learning new techniques as you did in Double Dragon, you have a whole arsenal of techniques in this one, such as the cyclone kick (before Ryu and Ken made it famous), the lunging knee, the super uppercut, several kinds of body throws, and the ability to use weapons like knives, whips, and uh, blue cylinder thingies. You fight through various levels together and finally have to fight clones of yourself who have the power to shoot fire out of their hands (before Ryu and Ken made that famous).
Here’s the fun part though. Playing the game on B mode allows you to hurt your partner. If you dealt the killing blow on him, you’d be rewarded with an extra life! This game was MADE for you to be vengeful on the second player and steal his lives. If you didn’t want to steal his lives, but just wanted to kill him, you could kick him into bottomless pits or onto spikes. Haha, not gonna trade garbage pail kids with me eh? Meet my friend Spike!
2. Super Dodge Ball
Hi yourself! This has got to be the most underrated sports game ever. I suppose the main reason it is underrated is because Dodge Ball isn’t a real sport with professional leagues or a world cup. At any rate, this is a great game. It has three modes, tournament, vs., and beanball.
In vs. mode you choose a team from one of about 12 countries and choose which of the players will be on the sidelines and which will be on the court. The object is to bludgeon all of the opponents’ court players with the ball until they die. Each court player has two different special attacks with the ball. These were performed by running and throwing, or running, jumping and throwing at the apex of your jump.
Some players had special attacks from the sidelines. Given that there are 6 players on each team, your team has 12 different attacks. The best kinds of attacks are those which are difficult to catch, such as the heat seeker ball, the invisiball, and the skyball. Each country differed in attacks and hit points. Teams with the lower hit points tended to have the best attacks. Teams with the higher hit points had one guy with good attacks and 5 scrubs. To humiliate your friend, you could choose the USA All stars when he cowardly chose the Soviets. Sure, one hit from the Soviets would kill any player on the USA All stars, but if you could avoid getting hit, and you could hit them 30 times, you’d pull off the biggest upset. The best teams were Team USA, Iceland, China, and the USSR.
In tournament mode (1P) you could choose only Team USA and you had to defeat all the other countries until you get to the big showdown with the USSR at the Kremlin. Then after that you have to play against evil clones of yourself. My, how the Soviets have fallen! First they put missiles in Cuba. Next they supported the Viet Cong in Vietnam. Now their plan to ruin the USA is to clone American players to defeat us in dodge ball. This is a clear sign that the USSR was crumbling (which it was when the game came out.)
Each country you visited was the most stereotypical representation of that country possible. As you can see in the pictures above, The only place they could make a dodgeball court in India was in front of the Taj Mahal. In China, you play inside the forbidden city in front of a large picture of chairman Mao. Rather than do any actual research about Iceland, they just decided to make the ground out of ice
If you had enough of vs. mode, you could play beanball mode. This is where you get to control one guy on the USA team and have a free for all with the other five. In the version I had, only two players could be human controlled, but some people have versions that allow up to four people to be controlled. It was kind of unfair because anyone who chose Sam would usually win.
This game never got old, and if I still had my NES and lived with my brothers, I’d probably still be playing it with them every day.
Finally, the greatest 2 player simultaneous game ever, Contra! In this game, your commandos have to fight together jumping from platform to platform, destroying base after base to get to the Aliens’ Lair and blow up the Alien heart. Along the way there are lots of special modifications to your gun that you can pick up, and a few places where a lot of teamwork will get you far (Especially in the snow field level).
So, this sounds like the platform version of Life Force (actually, Life Force is the ship version of Contra) and if I said Life Force is repetitive, how does this get number 1? Simple. You can kill each other. There are three ways to kill your partner. First (and most difficult) is to say you have him covered as he prepares to make a jump onto a platform with a lot of enemies. If you don’t shoot, then 90% of the time, he bites it. The second way is to not let the screen scroll (by stopping) when he’s making a critical jump. He will fall into the bottomless pit and die. HA! HA! Third, and easiest, is in the waterfall stage. This stage scrolls vertically, and if you jump high enough that the screen scrolls, you can make the platform your partner is standing on disappear.
When I and my brothers used to play, this level became more a race than anything else. If we could make it to the top without losing 10 lives, it was a good outcome.
In college my friends and I invented the Contra drinking game. Most college drinking games involve watching movies and drinking at certain points. The only trouble is that there are so many different points at which to drink that no one can remember them all. The Contra drinking game is simple. If you die, you drink. Put in the 30 lives code and when you complete a level, pass the controllers to two other people. Just hope you don’t get stuck playing the waterfall level. It’s funny that the drunker you are, the more you die, the more you drink, the drunker you get.
So that does it for my ten favorite 2 player games. A few honorable mentions must be made. "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, the arcade game" almost cracked the list. Some versions of Pac-Man allowed the second player to control a ghost, almost putting it into my list. Finally I must mention the 8 bit hack of Street Fighter II that I once played, that would have made it if I had never played the 16 bit version. Great games come and go, but the 2p feature will forever make these games classics.