There were three really big pop culture things that I remember clearly from my 1989 kindergarten class. There were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the New Kids on the Block (Stacey, one of the cool kids, was super into Jordan), and Super Mario Bros. 3. This was peak NES, and I was champing at the bit to try out this "Mario 3," but my dad, in his infinite dad jokiness, jested that I needed to be ten years old before I could get a "NinTENdo." I was pissed.
But sure enough, there was big old box that proclaimed "Now You're Playing with Power" under our Christmas tree. From that point on, I would be a Nintendo kid, pretty much forever.
I adored my NES, but I missed out on a lot of the classics. I pretty much played the Mario series, a dash of Contra, Paperboy, and TMNT, and some assorted Sesame Street titles. I wouldn't really form my identity as a player until the Super NES-era and Donkey Kong Country.
So, playing the NES Classic, I'm not so much reliving nostalgia as much as I'm finally reading the classics that informed so much of my later gaming education.
Now, I did get a first taste of games like Metroid and The Legend of Zelda and ExciteBike from playing the NES Remix series on the Wii U, and I still think those games are a fantastic introduction (with bite-sized stages that incorporated smart breakdowns of the mechanics, then offered little twists). But I didn't really get to dive into them as they released back when I was a kid.
The NES classic, though, is like a full immersion baptism to NES Remix's beginner-friendly toe-dipping. It's 30 NES games, most of them good, some of them great, presented in all their glory on a tiny, adorable NES box.
It's an experience I definitely recommend to anyone who doesn't already have all of these games on a Wii U or something, because the concentrated power of these titles, across genre, is a thing to behold. So here, friends, are a bunch of highlights from a really old-school Nintendo fan that is still somehow catching up on 30-year old games.
So, each week, for the next month or so, I'm going to look at six games from the mighty mini. Think of it as a world tour of the NES Classic!
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
I have never played all the way through a Castlevania game, not because I'm a bad person, but because I just sort of missed the whole thing. My parents probably wouldn't have bought it for me, given the packaging, but I think a younger version of myself would've enjoyed it.
I wouldn't have articulated why I found the design satisfying—with its complex stages, secret areas, day-night cycle with different NPCs in "town" areas—but I would've found the entire concept of a platformer where I could fight monsters and skulls and weird ghosts pretty cool. I also would've been a little terrified and totally transfixed by the art—which still looks amazing for late 80s/early 90s pixel art.
So, there would've been nightmares, and they would've been worth it.
Mega Man 2
I played this on stream for a little while, and I failed miserably. Something about Mega Man's little mega-jump just didn't click immediately, probably because I auto-hold the B button whenever playing an NES platformer. It's in my blood, I can't really help it.
But I was pretty enamored with the graphics and music. This is chunky, late 80s pixel art at its prettiest, with all those lovely layers of backgrounds and environmental details.
Younger Danielle may have loved it, taken to it naturally once the urge to depress the B button permanently let off. But before that, I would've definitely hurled the NES controller at the wall, screaming "I JUMPED," upon falling off a moving platform. This would've resulted in a permanently broken controller, that I would forever "let" my friend play with in any multiplayer sessions.
I was kind of an asshole as a kid.
Final Fantasy would lay the foundation for console JRPGs in so many areas. The combat, the characters classes, the exploration, the themes, the dopey dialogue, there is no denying that this is a foundational, important game.
But playing it now, even with a healthy respect for the genre, is a little tough. Younger me would've probably just put a second controller into orbit after failing an encounter.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
I had this rad Nintendo sheet set from when I was a young kid. There was Mario on one side, and a bunch of Zelda II stuff on the other. I had never played the Zelda games, so, I sort of thought they were about adude in green pajamas talking to weird strangers.
Later in life, I'd become a big fan of the series. But, you know, if I played Zelda II at the time of release… maybe that impression wouldn't have changed very much?
I always wanted to play Star Tropics. The whole premise: traveling to a mystical island to find your totally Indiana-Jones-but-not-Indiana-Jones uncle—who was abducted by aliens—appealed to my imagination, and the box looked really cool.
It would be 2016 before I got my paws on the weird little puzzle/adventure game, and I think my life is just a little bit richer for having tried it.
I get the distinct sense that, if I had played it early enough, I would've ended up a Star Tropics hipster, dressing up as protagonist Mike (with signature yo-yo) for Halloween as a teenager and getting mad when I was mistaken for Ness.
Aside from Super Mario Bros. 3, this is maybe the best game on the list. It's a very late NES game, from 1993, and it certainly looks much more sophisticated than earlier games, with layers and layers of background art and fantastic animation.
But really, this is so exciting because it was not only the template for the Kirby series— platformers that are all about copying your enemies abilities to traverse the world, less death-defying jumps—but also, a really great Kirby game. It's well-designed, offering plenty of secrets and surprises on top of that respect for player choice inherent to the enemy-copying.
If I played this as a young kid, I have no doubt I would've loved it. Enough to play "Kirby" on the schoolyard, attempting to eat my enemies instead of jump on their heads.
Symbolically, of course.