With its low self-esteem and high urban blight, Hartford is the ultimate underdog city. Sad City Hartford documents the joys, sorrows and eccentricities of New England's Rising Star.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Sad City's Guide To NES Games

If you are of a certain age, the Nintendo Entertainment System was the be all and end all of entertainment. With a complete and total hammerlock on the home gaming market, it is impossible to overstate how ubiquitous the NES was in the late 80's and early 90's.

An entire generation built their hand eye coordination mashing the rectangular controls and ride the emotional roller coaster of game glitches, cheat codes, throwing controllers, occasional horribly designed games, the repeating theme songs, a thrown controller or two, and blowing into the system and onto the cartridge in a desperate a tape to get a game to work.  Many of us from the generation vividly remember getting our first NES console, conquering favorite games, and devastating defeats at the hands of that always cheating computer.

With more hours invested into the NES than all other gaming systems combined, we have come up with our list of our Top 25 NES games. Certain classics that make every great game list aren't hear simply because we barely played them. So don't yell at us, yell at our parents for not buying us EVERY game. With apologies to those games, we present the Sad City Guide To NES Games.


 A popular arcade game before reaching the NES platform, Marble Madness was a unique NES game in which the player guided a marble through maps filled with undulations and pits. One of the best types of games; simple, with a high replay value.

Another PC classic that made it's way to the NES, Paperboy made a mundane suburban activity into a fun video game. The premise was simple, get papers in the mailbox or on the porches of subscribers (denoted by house color) while dodging the dangers of a suburban neighborhood. Paperboy was fun, but we never seemed to get very far, we aren't even sure if it was beatable.


Nintendo really made their bones with the 2D platform scroller back in the NES days. Adventure Island was a younger, hipper, tropical version of Mario Bros. complete with skateboarding and milk drinking. Always wished more time had been spent on this one. 


Now here is a game that some serious time could be spent on. With endless life, Ikari Warriors,went on, and on, and on, and on. A perfect two player game to waste hours with a friend, Ikari Warriors seemed to always freeze at the same spot on level four, which took about three hours to get to. Apparently, you could actually beat Ikari Warriors, and true to the era it was very difficult to beat and had a weak ending. Nothing like investing hundreds of hours for a great payoff.


One of the first NES games, Excitebike was mind blowing for the time. Not only would it save top scores during that gaming session, you could actually build your own tracks. Of course it was all wiped out when you shut the machine off, but for the mid 1980's, it was quite a feat.

That damn temperature gauge would drive you crazy though.

A quarter century later Red Lynx would release Trials HD. Upon first trying it we exclaimed "this is like Excitebike on crack!" A week later an XBox 360 was purchased. At the apex, Hakaan was ranked in the top 500 Trials HD players in the world out of 1.4 million downloads.


One of the very few games Hakaan can remember his father playing, Top Gun was HARD. Even once you had mastered getting through the levels unscathed, you still had to land on the aircraft carrier which was always a feat. With only four levels, Hakaan could barely get to the third. His father could get to the fourth. Never seen anyone beat it. 

What is more fun than refueling in mid-air and what is more 1980's than Top Gun?


Fat guys, skinny guys, medium guys. The overrated Blades of Steel be damned, Ice Hockey was the bomb. You want to go with three fatties and one skinny.


Another classic 2D side scroller, Duck Tales was just a flat fun game. You could pogo around with old Uncle Scrooge McDuck to that catchy theme song for hours. 


Another one of those seemingly endless NES games, Tiger-Heli was notable because you could shoot anything on the screen which was a novel concept at the time. Kind of a precursor to Grand Theft Auto. How cool was it when you got those tiny little choppers flying at your side and shooting in all directions?


Another game brought over from PC, we first came across California Games on the Commodore 64. Years later we were still doing the six event competitions. Skateboarding, surfing, hacky-sack, the half-pipe, and bmx were all great. That dumb discus throw not so much. The theme music is still radical dude. 


Nothing like strolling through town trying to find your kidnapped girlfriend, beating up bros, and crushing some waffles to refuel on the way. A very, very cool unique game and one we wished we spent a lot more time on. 

14. MEGA MAN 2

Yes, this is way too low, and yes this is the only Mega Man on our list. We just didn't play many of the other ones at all. Mega Man 2 is just awesome. Believe it or not, it seemed novel that you could fight the bosses in any order. It's an all-time classic series and we have to apologize for giving Mega Man short shrift back in the day. 


The most legendary of all cheat codes, no one can forget up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a, b, a, select, start. Everyone can beat the game with the code, very, very few without. 

The heart at the end of the game was so weird. 


Another trip through a city beating up thugs to save a girl, an NES classic theme and a classic NES game. Double Dragon was pure pattern recognition, but it was hard. Could get to the last guy in the game but never defeat him. The poor girlfriend is still captive all these years later. 


What can we say about Tetris that hasn't been said? One of the most popular games ever. The NES version sped up to insane speeds when you reached Level 19, even with a clear screen it was impossible to advance to Level 20. Personal record is 197 lines.


Our introduction to the Italian plumbing brothers, Super Mario Brothers set the standard for platform games and was imitated for years. The most successful franchise in the history of video games, Mario Bros. has introduced a handful of iconic characters. Many 1980's kids could pick this game up and maneuver through the levels today. 


The best racing game on NES and possibly the most underrated game on NES. Still fun today. And still impossibly hard. We don't know anyone who has beat it. The rumor back in the day was that there were 32 levels. Oil slicks will get you every time once you get into the 20's.


The first great football game, Tecmo Bowl was just flat out awesome. Forget the fact that there are only four plays per team, at the time this game was out of the world and still plays today. The time capsule aspect of video game rosters lets us play with John Elway, Joe Montana, Phil Simms, Dan Marino, Bo Jackson, Walter Payton, and Lawrence Taylor in their primes. 

While Tecmo Bo Jackson gets a lot of internet run as the best video game player ever, Tecmo Lawrence Taylor gets overlooked for his dominance on the defensive side of the ball.


Yes, the players may be all fat white guys and the ball may be diamond shaped, but RBI Baseball reigns as one of the best games ever. Real players (Reggie Jackson is in this game!) pitcher fatigue, unexplained errors, Doc Gooden and Nolan Ryan throwing unholy gas, RBI has it all. Almost thirty years later you can find Youtube tributes and mods all over the internet with rosters from all eras of baseball imported into RBI Baseball. 

Jumper and Hakaan are known to grab a six pack and have a seven game series to this day.


Today it is hard to describe how far ahead of its time Mario 3 was. Perhaps the most anticipated game in NES history, we distinctly remember staying up all night at a birthday party shortly after the release, playing Mario 3 all night and planning to sell the secrets in our new magazine "Nintendo Illustrated." The magazine never really got off the ground, but it wasn't for lack of playing Mario 3. The last of the great NES games.


It's hard to find anyone who didn't play and love Tyson's Punch-Out. One of the ultimate pattern recognition games, Punch-Out gets criticized today for being culturally insensitive. 

With a Russian chugging "pop," a Spanish fighter with a rose between his teeth, a German named Kaiser, a Japanese fighter named Honda, and an Indian with a turban, there is some truth to that, but it was a different era. Hell, there was a game called "Rush-N-Attack." That's about as subtle as putting out a game called "I Ran & I Rocked."

We could get one punch away but we could never beat the penultimate character, Super Macho Man. We don't know anyone who could beat Tyson. Anyone who could was a great schoolhouse myth. 


Higher than most would probably rank it, we love Dragon Warrior. An epic quest of upgrading swords and armor, rescuing princesses, slaying dragons, and travelling through towns, Dragon Warrior is an all-time classic RPG.

The sequels never measured up to the original.


Our favorite of the Mario Bros. series, Mario 2 was an epic leap in technology at the time. With the ability to select from one of four characters each level, side and vertical scrolling, Mario 2 was an instant classic. Still very playable today. Go with the Princess.


Baseball Stars was light years ahead of other sports games in terms of options. You could rename players, select the attributes to improve, create teams, play full seasons. There was nothing else like it at the time. The gameplay was incredible too. A skilled defensive player could time dives and even climb walls to rob home runs. It's quite possible multiple 100 game seasons were played back in the day. Still one of the greatest sports games ever. 


As you can see by now we never played much Metroid or Castlevania or Ninja Gaiden. While they may have all cracked the Top 25, they certainly would not have taken the top spot from Zelda. 

With the ability to "go anywhere" on the map, play the levels in any order, and unlock an incredible amount of secrets, Zelda was a one of a kind, genius game. Almost thirty years later they are still churning out sequels to this iconic franchise. They are still hard pressed to match the fun of the first.

We must have beaten it, 10, 15 times? One time in college Hakaan made an all day attempt to beat Zelda without dying (and not on some computer or fancy modded machine, a real genuine NES.) It took hours and all went well until meeting the final boss Gannon and forgetting the hit pattern to defeat him. Oh well. Man was college fun. 

Did you know the creator of Zelda also created Super Mario? That's like having John Lennon and Paul McCartney in the same band, it just isn't fair.


  1. I beat Mike Tyson in punchout. The original wrestling game was pretty fun too. You could bite the head of your opponent if you were a bad guy...

  2. Awesome list and trip down memory lane. I luckily held onto my NES, and still have her hooked up. It only took me till 2012 to beat Macho Man, so I feel your pain.

  3. NES was the only gaming system I ever owned, and really ever learned how to play for that matter.... Metroid, MegaMan, and Pro Westling, what a game!

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  5. By the way, Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, B, A, Start

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