NES Games ARE Worth Playing
Recently video game website Kotaku released their SNES Classic review. (You can find it here: https://kotaku.com/snes-classic-the-kotaku-review-1818822519/amp). I’m not looking at the review in full, but a small part of it that really kind of irked me. This is that part:
‘Today, sadly, most NES games are not worth playing. They are full of poor translations, inconsistent physics, and artificially inflated difficulty inspired by arcades. With a couple of exceptions (Super Mario Bros. 3), the NES Classic’s library consisted of games you’d load up, play for a few minutes, and marvel at how poorly they’ve aged.”
You can say what you want about the NES Classic’s library, hell even debate about what the top 30 NES games should be. I personally felt that the 30 games chosen were a pretty good representation of the 714 known licensed titles. But the first part of that paragraph, “…most NES games are not worth playing.’, I feel is absolutely unwarranted.
Many of these NES games have surpassed the test of time. The stories told, the gameplay, the fresh ideas, the challenging gameplay, are things still trying to be emulated today. One more thing? These characters are still around today! The adventures you took in Legend of Zelda, the countless hours you put into Super Mario Bros. (any of them), the rage that you got from playing Contra and dying at Base 1 over and over and over again. To say these games have aged poorly is wrong, and I know I am not the only one that feels this way. I feel to state this, is like comparing silent film era to the movies of today. The technology has advanced to extremes in both gaming and movie formats, it’s almost a night and day difference. The technology of the NES was used perfectly. The developers were able to create amazing games that are STILL being played and ported over to new consoles, and smartphones for a new generation to appreciate.
These games, not just the all-time popular ones, are still alive and thriving today. Not just from the new generation of gamers on the newer consoles, but from the generation of gamers that grew up with the beloved console like myself. These men and women still continue to play these games today. Some casually to relive the stories, others competitively to see how fast they can beat certain games. Overall, it’s amazing how dedicated these people are to playing and bringing games you may have never heard of to light, giving it a deserving second wind. I would love to take credit for doing so, but I am nowhere close to having that level of influence. My resume consists of watching a lot of streams, cheering on world records, being 6th place in the world on Barbie (NES) https://www.speedrun.com/run/zgnxlvny, and on a quest to beat the games I love that I never have “Leo’s Backlog”.
Getting back on topic, once hearing or reading about this claim on NES games not being worth playing, the community instantly took offense. Did the author really mean that the games aren’t worth playing? Maybe he took too broad of an approach against NES games. Either way, it got under the skin of many fans of the NES, myself included. Below are personal individual responses from the community.
Plenty of NES games are still worth playing today in spite of the technology not aging well in some cases or a lack of modern conveniences like streamlined saving methods and in-game tutorials to explain mechanics of more complicated titles. I don’t play NES games solely for nostalgia’s sake, I appreciate their simple yet solid gameplay. The community has helped further my interest in NES titles through their sharing of tidbits ranging from the history of the game’s development to pointing out bugs and glitches that can be used to the player’s benefit for extra fun. If I were to say anything to get off my chest, it’s really tiresome to see articles written that feel so out of touch with the player community they’re aimed at. People buying a SNES Mini, for example, are likely more concerned with the technical specs and performance of the device than the games on it unless they have issues that the original versions didn’t have. They’re buying it because they liked those games to begin with.
To say that the NES has a boring, mostly unplayable library shows how much research was really done to write this article. Is there shovelware on the NES? Absolutely – but out of the 700~ games, there are a ton of gems. For comparison, over the same 11 year period that games were released, the Wii has around 1500 games. And before the cries of “Nintendo only puts out crap shovelware games!”, the Xbox 360 had 1200 and the PS2 had 2500 over a similar lifespan. Would anyone complain about the PS2 having “not very many good games?” or games with “poor replay value” when there is arguably an entire NES’ library worth of shovelware or “crap” games? Who wouldn’t argue that Antz Extreme Racing – undoubtedly a high-demand licensed game released four years after the movie, was the pinnacle of PS2 era racing games? That being said, surely somebody out there enjoyed it. That’s the joy of playing these games – if anyone finds joy out of them, they have, at least moderately, succeeded. The NES Classic had a decent selection of games that represented the wide variety that the NES had. It was missing quite a few gems and had some games that, personally, I did not find enjoyable but can understand their appeal. And to trash, the entire library over less than 5% of the system’s offerings is beyond silly. I don’t like Ice Climbers, but I would never seriously say it is a bad game. While I may not have authored a book to lean my SNES Classic against, I can say this – to say one doesn’t enjoy the library is acceptable; to say the library is bad because of it is just bad reporting.
The NES is the definition of a timeless console. The market was able to experience a resurgence after hitting rock bottom in the early 80s thanks to this wonderful machine, and there’s no way it would’ve survived if it wasn’t for the consistently amazing library of quality games that were enjoyed by the masses. It had everything: difficult platform jumping, arcade-style shooters, brawlers, the best puzzle game ever made… what wasn’t to love? Even today, the influence from all of these games is still felt in modern indie releases. There’s a reason that those games are the way they are, don’t you think? As for the library itself, out of 714 games, given time, I could probably come up with a list of at least 450-500 of them that are still very enjoyable in this decade, for one or a multitude of reasons. From casual play bringing the best in pattern recognition and quality soundtracks to the more hardcore gamers that are willing to break these timeless gems down to their very programming, there’s always been something for everybody. Take me, for example, I used to be a flag carrier for the former, but after seeing what these games really have to offer, it’s only increased their overall replayability, in addition to bringing them relevance for a younger generation. Truth be told… anyone that can’t see these games for the masterpieces they probably haven’t spent enough time with them. Should anyone be encouraged to write about something that they haven’t experienced enough? Even Ganon himself laughs at that prospect.
The fact that this article states that most NES games aren’t worth playing shows a very big lack of both research and experience. There are hundreds of NES games that can still hold your attention wonderfully and still be as strong of a blind play through as the day it came off the presses. Let me start off with a very easy example: Mega Man.
Mega Man is a timeless series. There are 6 Mega Man titles on the NES, all spanning in different sets of abilities and difficulties. Even the very first one has an absolute charm to it, being the only one with a scoring system even, but maintaining a steady amount of difficulty along the way. Mega Man 2, the most iconic NES Mega Man and Mega Man games of all time, is possibly the best example of a game holding up still. Amazing OST, Fair difficulty (you can choose either Easy or Normal for the US version) and lots of weapons that can be used anywhere and everywhere (including the most OP of them all of course, Metal Blade). As the series continued in the NES life cycle you can see the polish really shining around 4 and 6. There isn’t a single bad Mega Man game on the NES, they all have something to bring to the table.
To continue with the Mega Man theme, let’s take Mega Man 9 and 10. They were both released within the last 10 years, maintain the same “NES” difficulty as the Kotaku article mentions and they are absolutely beloved. Especially 9 which was considered the harder of the 2. They both have the exact same charm the NES ones had, great music, great stage variation, and incredible replay value.
More examples of games that have aged incredibly well and can still offer great fun blind, with a friend or if you want to use a guide, why not! Most games these days pretty much come with a guide programmed in them. Here’s just a few:
- Final Fantasy (mini)
- Dragon Warrior 2-4
- Little Samson
- Shadowgate/Uninvited/Déjà vu (great point and click adventures)
- Gradius (on the mini)
- Super Mario Bros. 1, 2 and 3 (all on the mini)
- The Legend of Zelda and Zelda II (both on the mini)
- Castlevania (mini)
- Metroid (mini)
- Bionic Commando
- Blaster Master
- Metal Storm
- G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
- Ninja Gaiden II
- Life Force
- DuckTales 1 and 2
- Chip N’ Dale Rescue Rangers
- River City Ransom
- Tecmo Super Bowl
This is just a small example of games that can still be amazing blind or with help, or have a good competitive/co-op feel to them that you can play for hours. I could add to this list for days but you get the point. There were a ton on that list that is on the mini as well so I feel you need to play it for more than a “couple minutes” or perhaps be in the right mood to give it a go. Not every game is for everyone but there is tons of quality to go around.
I am a retro speedrunner and have been for over 15 years. There is nothing I enjoy more than hanging out with my twitch chat or friends and racing/speedrunning. Speedrunning as a whole has revived SO many good old games that wouldn’t be given a chance anymore and I think that is something special. Speedrunning in itself is definitely a specialized hobby but it’s a thing that can be for everyone as well. No matter how good/bad you feel you are at it, it doesn’t matter. You can derive great pleasure from speedrunning a game that would normally be really awful or start to understand and enjoy a mediocre or good game when you start to learn a few more strats for it. I’d compare it modern day to crafting your online FPS skills or MMO skills by practicing it over and over again. There is a very good comparison there in that it is cathartic and enjoyable to run something repeatedly even after others don’t understand why you do it. Some people collect stamps. Everyone has their love.
Yes the black box titles on the NES don’t really hold you for too long but they were the ones more based around arcade-style gameplay and looping repeatedly. They’re also the games that were the original releases on the NES. You can’t compare a game that came out in 85 like Donkey Kong to a game that came out 4 years later after a lot of research and development was done overall for the NES. It was a very experimental age and I think that’s why a lot of the games have the replay value they do. You can understand what the developers were trying to do with the unlimited imagination but very limited resources. This is why the original Zelda game is such a wonderful piece of art. Same with the original Super Mario Bros.
I would also argue strongly that games of yesteryear are much, much more immersive then games our today. When you play a Mega Man or a Super Mario Bros. you are totally focused on that character. Every jump you feel and every time you shoot something or bounce off of an enemy you’re totally focused on that act. What do you get these days in games? “Hit X to hurdle” “Hit Square to pay respects” Having a gigantic flashing arrow pop up out of nowhere to tell you exactly where to go. There’s no adventure or immersion there, the game is just playing itself. There isn’t as great a sense of adventure.
The question of NES not aging well is a fine one, but one that requires some serious research to understand. There are hundreds of games available to play (even more if you play Famicom titles). I’d argue the games from the PS1/N64 era aged far, far worse overall. Sure we have some of our greatest titles (Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid) but the amount of trash on those systems compared to good games far outweighs what was good/amazing.
Honestly, the NES might have more to offer now than it did back on its 1985 release date here in the US. Speedrunning makes bad games good, there is an infinite supply of online resources to get passed the overall cryptic areas NES does have. Instruction booklets/boxes aren’t always available so getting that information online is wonderful. You can talk to anyone in the NES community to get help with overall gameplay help and ideas about doing things differently or moves that would help more casual players get through. There really is so much the NES still can offer and can continue to offer.
The NES Classic is great for all the non-speedrunners and older people of our generation to really reconnect with something they haven’t seen in a long time. The benefit now is that they can talk to others at a touch of a button on their phone/computers/tablets and whatever other device people use to connect to these games and so on. Just doing a little research and a little digging to find hundreds of runners and thousands of fans of retro stuff isn’t hard at all and you get the benefit of socializing with a community who loves nothing more than to talk about everything gaming. NES is still very popular and continues to get more popular as the years go on. If you aren’t finding a game on the NES for you, you simply aren’t searching hard enough.
Throughout a library of over 700 games, this article would have us believe the NES is full of unplayable games that have aged horribly. As an individual who has taken the time to beat hundreds of titles and continue to explore these games to this day as a speedrunner, I am honestly offended at these egregious claims. It shows how little effort one has put into exploring the library when their only example of a “good game” is Super Mario Bros. 3.
The NES is deserving of love and respect for many reasons. It was the first home console that brought forth developers imaginations in a clearly defined representation. With 8 bits to work with video game characters and graphics came to life in a spectrum of enjoyable colors and sprites that echo the art of the cover and manuals that accompanied the cartridge. They have a timeless aesthetic that is still loved by many old and young. I’ve borne witness to this love throughout my time watching live streams of hundreds of these games. Including individuals who are too young to have any true nostalgic connection with these titles. It’s also stated within the article that these games have bad physics. I can think of more than “a couple” of games off hand with excellent controls and appropriate physics that warrant replay value. Contra, Battletoads, Kirby, Bucky ‘O Hare, Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers, Super Mario Bros. 2, Blaster Master, Little Nemo Dream Master, Metroid, Mega Man 2, Duck Tales, Conquest of the Crystal Palace, Clash at Demon Head, Ninja Gaiden 2, Journey to Silius, Monster in my Pocket, Kid Niki, Power Blade, River City Ransom, Werewolf the last Warrior, and Wizards and Warriors are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of quality physics.
It’s also stated within the article that these games have bad physics. I can think of more than “a couple” of games off hand with excellent controls and appropriate physics that warrant replay value. Contra, Battletoads, Kirby, Bucky ‘O Hare, Chip ‘N Dale: Rescue Rangers, Super Mario Bros. 2, Blaster Master, Little Nemo Dream Master, Metroid, Mega Man 2, Duck Tales, Conquest of the Crystal Palace, Clash at Demon Head, Ninja Gaiden 2, Journey to Silius, Monster in my Pocket, Kid Niki, Power Blade, River City Ransom, Werewolf the Last Warrior, and Wizards and Warriors are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of quality physics.
The SNES is arguably the greatest video game console of all time. That being said, I see no justification in besmirching the nes for the sake of your article. Please take the time to reconsider this system, and actually, play these games for more than a fleeting moment.