Top Ten Formative NES games

The most formative NES games for me growing up
June 30, 2014
What makes a game important to you during your formative gaming years? It's hard to say. For some it's a memory it brings up, for others it might be the first game that got them hooked on the NES. Basically it is a variety of reasons. I'm going to explore the top ten NES games for me that were important to me growing up. Some of these games are classics, some of these games are OK, and some of them are really not very good. I attempted to rank them in order of importance and the more memories they brought up, the more difficult that became. So, I decided to present the top ten in no particular order. I'll provide anecdotes personally that made them so important to me while also giving you a brief thought or two on the game.

10. Werewolf: The Last Warrior

This is a bit of an odd and rarely talked about game from Data East. It's also one of the few Data East games that is not an arcade port. It's a very different game and unfortunately not a very good one. You start off the game as a human with a really weak punch that has a reach somewhere in the vicinity of three or four inches. The very first thing you do in the game is fight a pretty easy miniboss but I always thought that was a very unique quality of an NES game since a lot of the old NES games tended to be pretty formulaic and I can't recall many that had you fight a miniboss right off the bat. Whenever you pick up a red "W" icon, you turn into a werewolf after a pretty cool cutscene.

Unfortunately, this game is not very good. It has a cool premise, but the difficulty in this game is really pretty steep. The Werewolf is obviously a big improvement on the human but his arms turn into some sort of metal blades but they aren't all that big of a step up from the human punch. However, the soundtrack is one of my favorite on the NES.

I remember taking a flier on renting this game during a Friday night. I had never heard of this game despite being a long time subscriber to Nintendo Power and decided to give it a try. I spent that Friday night playing it a ton and couldn't get very far in it but remember really enjoying it. It was one of those rare games that I knew was not very good but somehow it's charm just seemed to click with me.

9. Clash at Demonhead

This was another game that seemed to gain popularity well after it hit rental stores. It was from Vic Tokai and is another game that is pretty tough. It's very much a Metroidvania type game that is VERY japanese. The object of the game is to get to the top of this mountain and stop something called the "Doomsday bomb". You start off with a pretty weak gun but you can upgrade your equipment and weapons via a floating store that can appear at random.

This was a game that I rented during Christmas one year. My aunt and uncle and cousins were spending Christmas with us that year. they arrived and we decided to go rent a game from our good ol' Aardvark Video. I had seen a very small blurb in Nintendo Power about this game and wasn't real sure if I was interested or not. So that Christmas Eve we rented it and spent the night taking turns playing it. We enjoyed how the game was so random and how very eclectic everything was. The game lets you choose your own path after you complete each level via a map.

Even though we really loved the game, it was played the most that Christmas Eve. We had to go to bed and get ready for presents the next morning so once those presents were opened and I got the new NES games for that year (Back to the Future....ugh) it was kind of moved to the side and we returned it the next day. I bought a like new copy of it on ebay not too long ago and it always reminds me of that Christmas Eve night playing it and getting up to open presents the next morning.


One of the first games on the NES and basically made to primarily play it with ROB the robot.

We never owned a ROB the robot nor did my friend who's house I played it at. The game is basically a puzzle game as you play as a Professor who has to diffuse bombs on a given level screen while trying to avoid green miniature chickens or something.

I remember a friend of mine had a basement that was where his older brother slept and it had a built in cabinet on the wall underneath the stairs where his NES was setup. I still remember playing it and my friend asking me if I wanted to see a naked girl. Of course my 9 year old mind was racing and I said yes quite emphatically. He went into his brother's closet and pulled out an old brown VHS rental box and opened it and three or four pictures of naked women fell out. I didn't really have any idea what I was seeing but I knew one day it would be important to me haha. So there you go, Gyromite reminds me of naked girls. If you take nothing else away from this article, let it be that thought.

7.Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Oh boy. What can you say about this game that hasn't already been said by the Angry Video Game Nerd? He is right. This game is utter crap. You walk around aimlessly as Jekyll with a useless cane and try not to turn into Hyde. If you turn into Hyde and get too far ahead of Jekyll, you die. By the way, i like how the game is so awful that you had to advertise on the box that Hyde has a psycho wave as if that was a strong selling point of shelling out your hard earned money for this piece of crap.

I bought this game with my own money and as an 8 or 9 year old, that's a big deal. I did random chores around the house for what seemed like months and was probably much less than that and I even put the piece of crap on lay away at Wal Mart to insure my copy. I finally got the money, put it in my NES, saw a green claw come up on the title screen....getting pretty excited....and then....this

What the hell is this? You are literally walking and MAYBE you will turn into Hyde and right when the game gets good you die? I spent 50 bucks on this?!?

Well I tried to make the best of it. We used to have a gravel alley that ran through my backyard and my friend that lived across the way and I used to meet back there and hang out. We met back there one cool, very cloudy fall day and as we were kicking the damp dead leaves around he mentioned to me about this game he saw at Wal Mart called Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with this awesome box art. He got pretty excited when I told him I owned it. I tried to convince him how bad it was but to no avail. We went inside and started playing it. I'm not sure we lasted very long and I seem to remember Mario Bros. 3 made it appearance pretty quickly that day. I actually did Game Genie this game one day and beat it. All you have to do is hold down the right arrow on the directional pad, get to the church, get married and win. Ugh. F this game, let's move on.

6.Kid Icaurs
I love this game. I mean I really love this game. Music? Fantastic. Environments? Great. Difficulty? Hard as hell. I could honestly never get through the first level but loved the character of Pit and especially the unique enemies. You are Pit sent to destroy Medusa who has captured Palutena the goddess of light. You can upgrade yourself through various shops throughout the game and your currency is small to large pieces of heart. The temples where you fight the bosses can be a beast to get through with the mazes going from somewhat tough to out right hard. And whatever you do, watch out for the Eggplant Wizards.

A friend of mine was the son of a local doctor in my town and he owned this game. We used to go to the same church and when we were in Sunday School, we would always make plans to go over to either his house or mine. We would go over to his house and play this game for hours on end and his Mom would bring us popcorn in a big huge bowl while we played. When I one day discovered the "ICARUS FIGHTS MEDUSA ANGELS" code that grants invincibility, we made a beeline after church to give it a try and after hours of wandering aimlessly through the temple mazes, we got to Medusa and saved Angel Land. Man I love this game. Might have to save this article and go play for a while. OK I'm back..on to #5.

5. Blast Master

Another tough game that I absolutely loved with a really great soundtrack. By the way, the game is loosely translated in Japanese as "Super Planetary War Records: Metafight". Hilarious. You are Jason and your frog jumps out of his fish bowl and touches some radioactive material and disappears into a mysterious hole in the ground. You go after him and discover a tank that you get into and off you go. This is another tough game but has two different styles of play. You drive the tank called SOPHIA around and blast some monsters but the real point of the game is to get into doorways that you find spread out through the world and press select and send Jason in the doorways where it is a Zelda-type top down view where you fight some pretty cool looking bosses.

This was a "good behavior" rental from my parents. A business partner of my Dad's had a nice house just outside of our town and they had a large garden where they grew squash, okra, green beans, etc. Well they were heading out of town for several weeks that summer and my parents "volunteered" us as a family to take care of the garden and we could pick the vegetables and take them home for my Mom to cook for dinner. We spent a few warm evenings out there picking vegetables under slight protest from my brothers and I. Anyway, we finally finished one Friday night and my parents took us to Aardvark Video to rent a game and movie. I picked King Kong Lives and Blast Master. Made for one hell of a weekend and I eventually bought that copy of Blaster Master when Aardvark went out of business and still have it to this day.

4. Dragon Warrior

This was one of those games that was super popular in Japan and was brought to America where people didn't think it would go over well with american gamers but it turned out to be quite successful. The plot is farily basic: you are Erdrick sent to destroy the Dragonlord who is laying waste to the land. The game was unique in that you actually save the princess pretty early in the game. Most of the time, you would have seen the "saving the princess" angle being the driving plot point. It was also unique in that it was packaged with new subscriptions to Nintendo Power as a free gift along with a strategy guide. Unfortunately, I was a Nintendo Power subscriber from Day One all the way to the end of their run, so as a new subscriber I never got a copy of the game or the strategy guide. At that point I already owned the game anyway so it was no huge loss. I remember being very curious about this game rather than excited or pumped to play it. During that time I was not a huge RPG fan and certainly had not really played a game that relied so heavily on text based commands rather than action.

I asked for it for Christmas primarily because the box art was just so cool. I never did rent it, my curiosity got the best of me and I went in sight unseen except for the few articles I had read about. I opened it up Christmas morning and I remember just staring at the box art and reading the text on the back. There was still presents to open but all I wanted to do was read the instruction booklet again and again. I played that game for hours upon end well into the springtime. I could never beat it, in fact, I still have the cartridge with my game still saved on it and my experience level is through the roof and I'm sure the Dragonlord would be no match for me. I used to borrow Stephen King audiobooks from our local library and listen to them as I just traversed the world and leveled myself up. I need to finish that game.

3.Nightmare on Elm Street

I LOVE this game. Always have. Not only that, in my opinion, this soundtrack is maybe in my top 5 NES soundtracks ever. You play as a teenager on Elm Street who must collect the bones of Freddy in order to resurrect him and destroy him once and for all. You play both in the waking world and the dream world. You can also have superpowers in the dream world like a gymnast, ninja, etc. I have seen other retro junk articles on this game so I won't go too into detail as you probably already are pretty familiar with it. I wish I was making this up, but this game is formative in my youth because it gave me one of the worst nightmares in my life.

I had rented this game on a Saturday night and went to bed knowing that I had to get up for church in the morning. I played this game quite awhile that night and went right to bed. That night I had a dream that I was in the sanctuary of my church but that it had turned into a decrepit gothic temple of some sort. There was a small demon in the corner that was on a pipe organ playing the theme song from the inside of one of the houses in the game. I saw a huge casket rolled into the sanctuary and when it opened, there were hundreds of zombies with purple faces that oozed out of the casket non stop like clowns out of a clown car. I woke up without further damage to my psyche but needless to say I was a bit unnerved in church the next morning. What this says about me, I don't want to know.

2. Contra

Well, we knew this one was coming. Up up down down left right left right B A Select Start....spread get it. No need to rehash the plot, we all know it. The game is an all time classic. I often wonder though if the game would still be considered a classic if the Konami code didn't exist. This game screams summer to me in every shape and form. Neighborhood kids would always rendezvous to our house on lazy summer afternoons and play this game all day long. My Mom worked during the day so we were left to our own devices...which was glorious. We would input this code in and away we would go.

There would be about 5 or 6 of us packed into my small room and when it was not our turn to play, we would sit and read through my pile of Marvel comics. In fact, I still recall my go to comic was always the Amazing Spider-Man #350 with Spidey taking on Dr. Doom. We must have beaten this game a million times. I also recall having this odd fixation with recording us playing the game on VHS player that I hooked my NES through.

1.The Goonies II

I always really liked this game. Never loved it, but really liked it a lot. I never owned it, but was certainly a rental I came back to a bunch. Again, the soundtrack is phenomenal in this game. The Cyndi Lauper song done in 8 bit style is really fantastic. You didn't hear redone songs that early in the NES life very often. You are Mikey and you have to save the Goonies from the Fratelli gang and in addition save Annie the Mermaid.

I always had fun with this game and loved the environments but the problem I always had with it was I had no clue what to do next. Like most old school NES games, they just throw you in the fray and it is up to you to figure it out. Plus, doing things like retrieving the candle by hitting an old woman five times? who would have thought of that? This game was important to me simply because of the name. The Goonies II. For second grade, we had some arbitrary writing assignment and I chose to write a loose adaptation of the Goonies II. I love the movie and could quote the entire thing so the mythology of another one was too good for me. I always thought that the fact that the game existed meant that the sequel was just around the corner. So I used everything in my "treatment" from Annie the Mermaid to the Fratelli's and even Konami Man made an appearance. I threw One Eyed Willie in for good measure. I got a pretty good grade on it too.

Well that's it, my first attempt at an article. This was a blast to write and I plan on doing more in the future. I tried to think somewhat outside the box with these games and not just stick with Mario Bros, Zelda or Mega Man games. Now, don't get me wrong, I am an ENORMOUS fan of all those franchises but I wanted to go a little different route. Those franchises were very formative to my gaming life too but there are some exceptional articles already written about them here on RJ so I think those can suffice.

I would love to hear some other memories of NES games that were near and dear to your heart. I hope to possibly write a sequel to this article in addition to the Worlds of Power NES novelizations and maybe my favorite NES box art.
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