I love Nintendo as much as the next guy, but I can’t imagine shelling out $60 for the “Mini” Nintendo Entertainment System. Let’s face it: emulation is just plain better than original hardware.
“But emulation is piracy!!” No, sirrah. ’Tis not. It’s 100% permissible under law to own ROMs of games you owned at one time. Buying a game = buying the right to a digital backup of that game, forever. And that’s all a ROM is: a digital backup. Is there potential for piracy? Of course, but also a huge upside: the ability to play through all those wonderful games without the frustration and misery of losing your last continue.
A long list of Things to Dislike about the Mini, but worst is that no additional games are forthcoming. All you get are the preloaded 30 – an impressive roster of titles, but one of my favorite things about the NES was all the weird little games from weird little publishers like Sunsoft (still around!), Hudson, and Data East. Indie gaming before indie gaming was a thing.
So, in “honor” of the Mini, here are five of my favorite NES games not included:
1. A Boy and His Blob
Gameplay might not be its strength, but it’s impossible not to love this quirky, offbeat title. You play as, yes, a boy and an jelly bean-eating alien blob attempting to save planet Blobbonia from an evil junk-food emperor. If that sounds awesome, that’s because it is. A new-and-updated version is available for virtually every modern platform.
2. Bionic Commando
A platformer where you can’t jump?! Sounds crazy, but Bionic Commando’s hook-shot grappling makes for an all-time classic. And a brilliant story brilliantly told, to boot. Notorious for not having a save function, but hey – no problem in emulation.
3. Blaster Master
A boy named Jason chases Fred, his pet frog, into an underground labyrinth, where he finds “Sophia the Third”, a hyper-advanced combat chassis – young Jason hops in and sets off to save Fred from The Plutonium Boss! So much to love about this title, but by far and away, the coolest thing is the tiny caves only Jason can enter, at which point gameplay switches from sidescrolling to top-down. Wonderful non-linear play. They don’t make ’em like this no more.
Woefully underappreciated. Among the best RPGs ever, I’d argue – a beautiful story synthesizing Norse mythology into something unique, flavorful, and unforgettable. One of my favorite things about this title is that your character’s sprite actually changes appearance when you equip different armor and weapons. Start off as a scrawny pipsqueak, end up a bad-ass fantasy warrior. Makes you feel so invested and proud of your character’s progress.
Not on the level of Zelda, but this just might be my favorite oddball, out-of-the-way NES title. Pretty much said it all right here.
Owned any of these games past? Want to relive the glory? Check out Nestopia, the best OSX NES emulator out there, AFAIK.
Old video games are brutal. I guess they had to be, because the technology behind them was so crude. Rygar, from Tecmo, was one of the most savage. One life, no continues. Fall into a chasm? Game over. Die during the fight with the final boss?
I never finished Rygar as a lad – it was just too discouraging to have to start over from scratch after playing for four hours straight.
Despite all this, Rygar was and is one of my favorite games. It was one of the first titles I played that wasn’t a hopelessly insoluble “graphic adventure” or a futile, existentialist sprint against death. Rygar is a story, in the truest sense of the word. Now, what with ROMs and emulation software and all, you can actually finish the game and know the ending.
Playing Rygar all over again reminds me why I loved the game when it first came out. It’s so weird and imaginative. Your hero (Rygar!) is a Robert E. Howard-esque slayer, with a “Discarmor”, a spinning shield of fire that lashes out like a yo-yo. Rygar searches the land of Argool for the five “Indoras”, mystical sages who will bestow him with the power to kill the evil god Ligar and restore peace.
Despite the simplicity of the graphics, there are moments of true beauty and awe in the game – the rising sun in the background of the opening level, the mysterious castle in the sky, and the far-off mountains and trees in the backgrounds. Argool is a wild, vast and magical place.
At times Rygar feels like Norse mythology; at others, it feels Hindu. Or Greek. It’s a delirious and wooly blend of prehistoric Indo-European mythologies, completely unrestrained in its creativity and imagination. The wonderful names of the monsters and places – Eruga’s Forest, Garloz, the Tower of Garba – added immensely to the flavor.
Rygar was also special when it came out in that you could actually revisit places you had been – in fact, you had to. Argool was truly open-ended, every bit as much as Grand Theft Auto.
But Rygar’s soundtrack is the best thing about the game. There are a few missteps – the repetitive drone of Dorago’s Palace drives me a little crazy – but nothing can take away from the overall beauty and power of the score. Garloz and Eruga’s Forest are my favorite tracks.
Tecmo remade Rygar for the PS2 in 2002. It was a great game, but they abandoned Argool for a Greco-Roman setting. It actually came out before God of War, so it wasn’t a copycat, but I was still disappointed – I’ve always wanted to know more about Argool’s myths and monsters.
I was surprised to learn there was a coin-op Rygar game, released about a year before the NES version, but it’s one instance where the console version of the game is head-and-shoulders above the arcade. They’re not even the same game, really. Although the graphics for the arcade version are better, the game is grindingly repetitive.
So there’s no question: the version of Rygar for the Nintendo Entertainment System is the best of the bunch. It’s crude, and it’s brutal, but despite that it truly feels like a window into another universe. To play it, check out the Nestopia emulator. Rom-world.com is a great place to go for ROMs. I don’t condone downloading ROMs of games you never owned, of course, but if you bought the original game, it’s still yours!