It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time...

Ill advised game features that resulted in more broken controllers than fun.
September 03, 2005
For being such a limited console, the NES really did deliver an excellent gaming experience. That's why there are so many classic Nintendo aficionados out there (such as myself). As you play many Nintendo games, however, certain aspects of these games force you to ask "Why?". Some of these things were just hardware limitations (such as not being able to go left in SMB--they hadn't made a chip that could work that way yet), but some were obviously placed in games intentionally by the designers to somehow enhance the gameplay...and failed miserably.

Metroid is probably my favorite video game ever. That being said, it's full of stuff that just doesn't make any sense. I have a theory about Metroid. Since the ending you get is based on the amount of time it takes to finish the game (the shorter the time, the better the ending), there are lots of things in Metroid that are designed to make you waste time. That stupid pit in Brinstar next to where the Ice Beam is, that huge area in the upper right corner of Kraid's Hideout with no items in it, the near-impossible jump in Ridley's Hideout for which you only get some missiles; I could go on and on. But the most annoying thing in Metroid BY FAR is the area in Norfair pictured here:

If you get stuck in there, you have three choices: try to bomb-jump your way up (good luck), wait for the lava to kill you slowly, or pause the game and press Up and A on controller 2 (this classic Nintendo 'death code' was included in many early NES games). Options 2 and 3 would take you all the way back to the beginning of Norfair. These little pits were an all-round pain in the butt, no matter how you looked at them. And there are plenty of enemies in this room to knock you down there. Thanks Nintendo.

Rad Racer is a pretty cool game. It featured fairly prominently in the movie The Wizard (man, I wanted a Power Glove, but I digress), and I read somewhere that the music is by Nobuo Uematsu, of Final Fantasy Fame (although he's uncredited). It's your pretty standard racing game--except for one thing. Rad Racer has a 3-D mode. A red/blue seizure-inducing 3-D mode. Just press Select, and you can see this scene:

Of course, the picture doesn't really do it justice. I guess the NES couldn't show everything in red and blue at once, so the game alternated between flashing red and blue screens. This happens to be a blue screen. In theory, I guess it's a pretty cool idea, but it just doesn't work. When you put on the glasses, absolutely nothing looks 3-D at all; it just looks worse. All Rad Racer's 3-D mode does is give you a headache.

Kid Icarus is often referred to as Metroid's 'Sister Game'. Both games were made by Nintendo's R&D1 team at the same time, both have music by Hip Tanaka, both use a password system, and both have pretty similar play control. In Metroid, Samus can roll up into a ball. In Kid Icarus, Pit can duck. Generally speaking, ducking is a good thing. It allows you do dodge enemies, fit into smaller spaces, etc. The problem with ducking in Kid Icarus, however, is that there are some platforms in the game that you fall right throgh when you duck.

But it can be kind of hard to tell which platforms those are. It's all too easy to end up falling down a bottomless pit because you tried to dodge an enemy by ducking. And the levels of Kid Icarus that scroll vertically only scroll up. If you fall, you don't just fall back down the shaft; you fall off the bottom of the screen and die. But you CAN walk off the left side of the screen and magically appear on the right side. Nintendo Logic strikes again!
Castlevania 3 has a similar problem as Kid Icarus. Many of the vertical shafts in the game only scroll up, not down. So if you fall off the bottom of the screen, you don't just land on a platform further down the shaft; you die. You counteract this by standing on stairs. For some reason, Trevor can't be knocked off of stairs--his feet stick to them or something. Just don't get hit by an enemy while standing on a flat surface.

Oh, and you can't land on stairs when you're falling. I guess they're not sticky enough to catch you in mid-air.

Super Mario Bros. 3 was a groundbreaking game. It successfully combined elements of earlier Mario games with many new ideas to create a whole new gaming experience. One of the new features of SMB3 was that you could control the direction an item went when you hit a '?' box. If you hit the right side of the box, the item would go left, and vice-versa. Theoretically, this allows the player total control over how they want to collect the item. Usually, though, it just confused and angered players who were used to items always going to the right.

This must not have been a very popular feature of the game, since the items in subsequent Mario games always go to the right. In the end, I think it's better that way.

Wizards and Warriors has a strange feature that actually works to your advantage. The game gives you infinite continues as long as you press Start within 10 seconds after you die. But you don't just go back to the beginning of the level; you start at the exact spot where you died. And you still keep all your items. The only penalty is that you lose all your points (which don't matter anyway). Essentially, this amounts to immortality.

Here's a scan from the Wizards and Warriors instruction manual:

The only downside is that, if you die and continue while fighting a boss, all the boss's energy refills. But the bosses in this game aren't that hard anyway. It seems like this is a carryover from arcade games, where you had to spend more quarters to continue, but fortunately, the NES doesn't have a coin slot.

Final Fantasy was a game that set the standard for RPGs for years to come. There are, however, a few things that make this game frustrating at times. Certain items and spells don't work in battle (when you need them the most), Houses don't save magic points, and so forth. What I want to focus on is the familiar scene depicted below:

If you tell two characters to attack the same enemy, and the first one kills it, the second character will attack the dead enemy, resulting in an ineffective attack. I've heard the argument that this actually makes the game better: that you have to plan an attack strategy to avoid wasting turns. I can see their point, I guess. In my opinion, it gets tedious to have to plan out every battle. If you're fighting easy monsters to level up, you shouldn't have to think that hard. Of course, this was fixed in later Final Fantasy games, so that every attack counts. It was also changed in Final Fantasy Origins, which is the FFI port for Play Station. If you don't want to waste turns beating on dead IMPs, play that version.

This list is by no means complete. Just about every NES game has something in it that just doesn't make sense. These just happen to be the things that confused the heck out of me as a kid, and I'm sure they confused other kids too. Even with all their warts, Nintendo games were still fun, and we love them, warts and all (even SMB2...get it?...Wart?...never mind).
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