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4/21/2020

Top 101 NES Games, #80-71

80. Deja Vu: A Nightmare Comes True! (ICOM, 1990)

Part of the so-called "ICOM Trilogy" for the NES, Deja Vu was a slightly more realistic take on the point-and-click adventure genre. As an amnesiac framed for murder, it falls to you to recover your memories, clear your name and uncover the real culprits behind the crime. As with the other two games in the series, some puzzle solutions are a bit obtuse and it's possible to get stuck in an unwinnable state if you're not careful, but the solid, atmospheric soundtrack and tense narrative make it an unforgettable experience regardless. It's just a pity that Deja Vu's sequel was never released on the NES; however, it did eventually get a Game Boy Color port in late 1999.



79. Astyanax (Aicom, 1990)

A fairly popular game in its time that isn't talked about much these days, Astyanax was quite a sight to behold on the NES.  Large sprites with a surprising number of animation frames, elaborate and detailed backgrounds, some imaginative (and gruesome) boss designs, and gameplay slightly reminiscent of Castlevania.  The player gets a choice of three weapons, though the way they operate is slightly odd - some get more damage from simple swings but cause the player's magic attack to consume more or less of the gauge in return.  A bit odd for sure, but it's a relatively fun game to play through, and the imagination employed in its visual design alone certainly makes it worth a look for fans of obscure gems.


78. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Sunsoft, 1990)


Based on the film of the same name, Gremlins 2: The New Batch was handled by Sunsoft, a company that had impeccably high standards in everything they did, even if it was a licensed tie-in.  Gremlins 2 is certainly no exception, basing its levels, enemies and bosses on the film with surprising faithfulness, large sprites and immaculate graphical detail that makes all of them instantly recognizable.  The music is equally good, lending much of the film's frantic and chaotic tone to the game, and the controls, while they take a bit to get used to, are finely polished, letting you platform, evade enemies and throw attacks with ease.  It's not an especially long game and having level passwords and unlimited continues definitely doesn't make it one of the NES's most challenging games, but I can't complain when the end result is so fun.

77. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Konami, 1987)


A game which may be the focus of a lot of mockery and ridicule these days for having very loose ties to the source material and some occasionally baffling design, but one must also remember that this was the first video game based on a popular property, and weird or not, your game doesn't sell over four million copies without doing something right.  TMNT was certainly ambitious for its time, combining side-scrolling action segments with top-down, open-world exploration broken up into several stages, and the variety of enemies, sub-weapons and creative stage designs make it well worth a look.  That, plus Konami's consistently high standards for visuals and music, quickly made it into a hit in 1987.  People nowadays mostly talk about the arcade beat-em-ups, but being one of the first games I owned and played quite a lot of (but never actually finished as a kid), this one will always hold a special place in my memories.  And an occasional revisit on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

76. M.C. Kids (Virgin Games, 1992)


M.C. Kids is a game that's frequently overlooked, but I can't give people too much crap for that.  Between its late release and being an advergame for McDonalds, it's one that few people paid any mind to in the 90s and most who learned of it later dismiss immediately.  However, those who gave it a chance found a highly polished and fun platformer that takes several cues from the Super Mario Bros series.  One can pick up and throw blocks to defeat enemies or weigh themselves down to spring higher on springs, flip their own gravity and traverse stages upside-down, and of course find a huge plethora of secrets and bonuses in each level.  Even the visual style is similar, with some smoothly animated characters and detailed sprites.  Virgin would go on to make several highly-acclaimed games (most notably Aladdin on the Sega Genesis), but M.C. Kids never quite got its due.

75. Faxanadu (Hudson Soft, 1989)

A spinoff of Xanadu (the second game in Falcom's Dragon Slayer series, which itself never got a western release), Faxanadu is regarded as an overlooked classic these days.  It's definitely one of the more unique and bizarre fantasy games on the platform, with a downright bizarre setting, some creepy enemies and some surprisingly good gameplay.  Combining elements of platformers (complete with a number power-ups and hazardous items one must avoid) and RPG elements like spells,, experience points and armor upgrades, it has quite a bit to offer both action and RPG fans.  It does have some slightly awkward controls and tricky jumps that require nearly pixel-perfect precision.  Faxanadu was never a super popular game, but those who give it a chance have a good time in store.

74. Life Force (Konami, 1988)


Known as "Salamander" in Japan, Life Force is a spinoff of the Gradius franchise, featuring both side-scrolling and top-down scrolling gameplay and a similar power-up system.  It definitely plays up the horror influence too, taking place in the body of a giant alien and having appropriately creepy, fleshy environments and bosses to square off against.  The NES version, in addition to being heavily reworked from the arcade, was also notable at the time for featuring two-player simultaneous co-op, and surprisingly it shows little slowdown during it even when the action really heats up.  But of course, Konami pulls no punches with the difficulty either - if you don't memorize the ins-and-outs of every battle and plan your movements carefully, you're not going to be able to finish this one.

73. Downtown Special - Kunio Kun no Jidaigeki Dayo Zenin Shuugou! (Technos, 1991 in Japan)

A lot of people know about River City Ransom - it's one of the defining cult classics of the NES - and even about the franchise it's a part of, but for some reason not too many people talk about this one.  Translating to "Kunio-Kun's Historical Period Drama", it's essentially the same gameplay as RCR, but set in feudal Japan and having you search out a cure to your bunzo's illness.  Some other improvements show up too, like showing how much damage you're doing to opponents and an AI-controlled partner who accompanies you throughout if you're playing solo.  It's not quite as fun as the first owing to copious lag and slowdown (a problem with the NES verison of RCR as well, particularly in two-player mode), but it's a great game regardless.  Give it a play if you can find a copy.

72. Solar Jetman: Quest for the Golden Warpship (Zippo Games/Rare, 1990)


The sequel to Rare's "Lunar Jetman", and a much different game overall, as it's based much more heavily on exploration and physics simulation.  The player visits thirteen planets with differing gravity and hazards and seeks out various treasures and items.  Some upgrade the player's pods with new weapons or additional capabilities like shields and thrusters, while others simply provide money to spend at the shop in-between rounds.  The goal on each world is to fuel up your mothership and collect one of the pieces of the Golden Warpship; collecting them all will allow you to enter the final stage and defeat the boss at the end.  Some amazing graphical effects and music (provided by the legendary David Wise) round out the package, making it a game that plays as good as it looks.  The only thing holding it back from greatness was its extreme difficulty level.

71. Monster Party (Human Entertainment, 1989)


Monster Party probably isn't remembered by most as one of the best-playing games on the NES, but it is certainly one of the most memorable.  This is in no small part due to featuring some surprisingly gruesome imagery, including even some blood and gore, as well as some of the most creative and outlandish bosses seen in any NES game.  From a bubble-spitting pitcher plant to a transparent mummy to a cat that throws smaller cats to a giant bouncing onion ring, Monster Party has panache and weirdness to spare, as well as giving the player clever means to fight them; either transforming into a winged gargoyle-like creature to launch fireballs or utilizing a short-ranged baseball bat to deflect their own projectiles back at them.  One of those games that still stands out today just based on the merits of the imagination employed in its design.

Fun fact: An unreleased Japanese prototype of the game reveals that many of the bosses within are actually parodies of famous films, from Planet of the Apes to Alien to Gremlins to The Thing.  Unsurprisingly, most of these were changed in the US version because of copyright concerns.