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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. Lemmings (DMA Design/Sunsoft, 1992)

Lemmings was an enormously popular puzzle game back in the early '90s, spawning numerous sequels, spinoffs and ports on just about every platform you could think of.  Sunsoft did a great job on the NES port too, retaining the same gameplay as well as the high-quality animation and music that made it a hit on various computer platforms.  The goal of the game is a simple one - get a quota of lemmings safely to the goal - and to that end you assign a few of them tasks like blocking the others from walking into hazards, giving them umbrellas to safely drop long distances, digging through dirt or building staircases to clear a path.  Sounds simple enough, but it quickly becomes very challenging, with later levels requiring very careful planning and precision to complete.  Still, Lemmings is a classic puzzle game, and is definitely worth a look.

78. GI Joe: A Real American Hero (Taxan, 1991)

The first of the two NES GI Joe games, and it was a fine representation of the show, letting you pick a team of three characters as you completed various missions.  Mostly in the form of side-scrolling platforming stages and boss fights with the franchise's iconic villains, but throughout you'd also have to infiltrate bases and plant bombs, then defeat the boss and make your escape before they detonated, which was quite cool to see.  Each team member also had different abilities - Snake Eyes could jump the highest and had relatively long melee range with his sword, Duke and Gridiron are relatively well balanced, while Rock&Roll has overall low stats but the most powerful weapon in the game when fully powered up.  The final stage also lets you take control of General Hawk, who flies around with a jetpack, adding another layer of fun.  A solid, well-made game that for some reason never got much attention.

77. Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985)

The original Mario Bros. one gets a lot of flak from retro and modern gamers alike, and I'm really not sure why. Sure, it hasn't aged quite as well as the legendary sidescrolling platformers that succeeded it, but it's still a pretty entertaining game in its own right. Bump enemies, dodge fireballs and icy floors, collect coins, shove player two into that enraged shellcreeper coming for your blood, rush for the panic POW block when things get too crazy... what's not to love here? It's easily among the best of the black box era games, if nothing else. Hell, it even spawned a pretty fun little two-player competitive minigame in Super Mario Bros. 3, so it must be good!

(There is also an enhanced update on the Disk System called "Kaettekita Mario Bros" if that's your sort of thing.)

76. Moon Crystal  (Hect, 1992 in Japan)

A rare and expensive title from a relatively unknown developer, but that doesn't mean it's not a good game.  Moon Crystal might just have the most impressive presentation of any game on the platform, with some really good music tracks, large and fluidly-animated character sprites, cutscenes between stages reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden, and even some impressive effects like parallax backgrounds and multi-plane scrolling.  Moon Crystal feels a bit like Prince of Persia gameplay-wise, with the player able to grab onto ledges and pull themselves up and a somewhat more methodical approach to action and platforming - your smooth animation comes at the cost of having a substantial delay in things like ducking, turning and jumping, so planning and executing moves to avoid obstacles, dodge enemy attacks and land hits is a challenge in itself.  You do get some help in the form of powerups that increase your attack range, boost your health bar for the rest of the stage or enable double-jumping, though, which does help prevent things from getting too frustrating.

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. Destiny of an Emperor (Capcom, 1990)

When you talk about NES RPGs, pretty much everyone will mention Zelda or Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest/Warrior.  Destiny of an Emperor is rarely mentioned in comparison, but for Capcom's first foray into the genre, it was a relatively novel one. An adaptation of the manga "Tenchi wo Kurau" which itself was based on the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, it was a turn based RPG with a twist - Soldiers were your Hit Points, Tactics were your spells, and rather than a small handful of characters to recruit, there were 150 generals in total; most did not power up as the party's levels increase, though, so picking the best ones available and booting weaker characters to make room for stronger ones were commonplace events. The good soundtrack and relatively quick pace also help to set it apart and keep it consistently entertaining. 

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.