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11/02/2021

Top 120 NES Games, #108-97

108. Jackal (Konami, 1988)

Konami had a reputation for making home ports of arcade games that managed to be just as good as the originals and, at times, even better.  Jackal was no exception, adding in boss battles, faster gameplay and tighter controls to round out a great action title. You play as a small unit of soldiers in a jeep and are out to rescue POWs, able to move and fire a machine gun (though only toward the top of the screen, so careful movement and positioning is mandatory) and lob grenades/fire bazooka rounds in eight directions - both to destroy enemies and to free POWs from prison buildings, which you can then evacuate at helipads for points.  Basically, a top-down shoot-em-up with the smooth movement and aiming of Contra; what's not to like?


107. Dig-Dug (Namco, 1985 in Japan)

Another popular arcade title that got ported to just about every platform under the sun, and for good reason.  Well, almost - it was conspicuously absent on the NES in North America despite getting ports to both the Famicom and the Disk System in Japan (though we did get Dig Dug II... blech).  A bit of a shame, as like Galaga and Pac-Man, it's a fine conversion that plays nearly identically to its arcade counterpart.  The objective is simple enough - clear each screen of enemies - but it's made more complicated by the fact that you must dig your way through the dirt to create paths for them to follow, which can then be utilized to set up traps for them - dropping a rock on one or more enemies at a time will rack up serious points.  However, they will also occasionally turn into a ghostly form and pass through walls to get to you more quickly, so you must stay on your toes.  A fun and addictive little game.

106. Galaga: Demons of Death (Namco, 1988)

An arcade smash for sure, Galaga is just pure fun - blast aliens, avoid their increasingly aggressive movement and firing patterns, and shoot for a high score.  Having your ship captured and then freeing it to control two ships at once and get double the firepower was also a pretty awesome feature for the time, and the sparse-but-catchy music and spacey sound effects perfectly immerse you in the atmosphere.  The NES version is a nearly perfect copy of the arcade game with few frills, but with a game this classic, that's no bad thing in my book.




105. A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia (Absolute Entertainment, 1989)


A game made by a couple of Atari Alumni (Garry Kitchen and David Crane), and it carried on their standards for quality and surprising depth despite a relatively simple concept.  As the title implies, you play as the unnamed boy and are accompanied by his friend, a blob who shapeshifts into different forms when you feed him jellybeans, usually with some kind of pun tying them together.  Apple jellybeans turn him into a hydraulic jack, while Punch will turn him into a hole you can fall through, for example.   Using both characters in tandem, you maneuver around a series of danger-laden caves underneath your local subway station in search of treasure, trade that in for vitamins, then blast off to Planet Blobolonia to free it from a tyrannical king.  Weird concept for sure, but surprisingly well-executed and fun.  It even had enough of a fan following to get a Game Boy sequel and a modern reboot by WayForward, so it did something right.

104. The Goonies II (Konami, 1987)

Goonies II is a strange case in many ways.  While there was a game based on the Goonies, it actually never got a home release outside of Japan, only appearing in the west on the Playchoice-10 and VS systems in the arcades.  Then, as if that wasn't odd enough, Konami decided to produce a sequel to it even though there wasn't a sequel to the movie.  It changed up the format quite a bit, taking cues from games like Metroid; you explore a very large environment, uncovering clues, finding upgrades for your character, and eventually rescuing all of the Goonies from captivity.  Even at this early stage, though, Konami definitely showed off the quality in their games with some detailed visuals, smooth animations and a quite good soundtrack (including a rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "The Goonies 'R' Good Enough").  It may not have had a corresponding film, but Goonies II was a classic game just on its own merits.

103. Zanac (Compile, 1987)

Shoot-em-ups (generally abbreviated to "shmups" nowadays) have been around since video games were first a thing, and there is no shortage of debate about which games in that vast genre are the best.  Zanac was definitely one of my favorites among those released in this era, though.  Not only did it feature surprisingly fast-paced and relentless action for its time, but it was surprisingly innovative too, containing an adaptive AI that would make things progressively tougher if you were doing well or firing too many shots, or ease up if you were struggling or consistently destroyed enemy recon craft.  It had quite a variety of weapons too - eight upgradable special weapons in total, plus an upgradable default gun, gave you plenty of options and firepower to deal with your foes.  It's not the prettiest shooter on the system by a long shot, but it plays amazingly well, so who's complaining?

102. Barker Bill's Trick Shooting (Nintendo, 1990)

The Zapper was the NES's quintessential and most prevalent accessory, having a total of 16 compatible games and even being one of the few to get support from unlicensed game companies.  Barker Bill's Trick Shooting (a tie-in to a '50s TV show) is one of its most interesting and varied games, having four modes - Balloon Saloon, Flying Saucers, Window Pains and Fun Follies (an amalgam of the previous games, with three new minigames mixed in).  Each has differing sets of rules and gets progressively tougher as you go, though unlike most Zapper games, you do get chances to earn extra lives and keep playing - either by shooting diamonds or winning them via a slot machine in Fun Follies.  Probably the most fun and varied Zapper game the NES had to offer.

101. Little Nemo: The Dream Master (Capcom, 1990)

Based on the 1989 animated film (which ironically wouldn't be released in the states until two years after the game), which in turn was based on a newspaper comic strip from the early 1900s.  It doesn't follow either one particularly closely, but it does prove to be a surprisingly solid platformer with good graphics, catchy music and an overall high level of polish.  The central mechanic in most levels is key-hunting, though Nemo himself isn't particularly mobile - he moves slow and isn't that great at jumping, either.  So, you feed various monsters candy to knock them out, then take control of them to navigate the levels, with creatures like a purple lizard that can climb walls, a bee to fly and shoot stingers and a frog that can jump extremely high.  ...Weird idea, but it adds quite a bit of variety to the game, and the levels are big and fun to explore but not so vast that they become tedious to traverse.  Precise platforming and movement becomes extremely tight in the later stages, which can be frustrating, but all in all, another surprisingly good licensed game from Capcom.

100. 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.



99. Swords & Serpents (Interplay, 1990)

A lot of early PC dungeon crawlers got NES ports, though their execution was often not the greatest; whether due to bugs (Might and Magic), a substantially downgraded presentation (Bard's Tale) or just dragging pacing in general.  Swords & Serpents is one not based on an existing computer game, but rather an entirely original offering, and they did a good job taking advantage of the NES's strengths rather than working against them.  The unsettling atmospheric music and grotesque monster graphics definitely aided with that, as did an uncomplicated UI and even an onscreen minimap to aid in navigation.  Also unique among dungeon crawlers on the platform, this one is multiplayer, supporting up to four players via the NES Satellite or Four Score.  It is a bit of a pain to save your game and come back later (there are FIVE passwords to keep track of - one tracking your progress through the dungeon and one for each of your four characters), but Swords and Serpents is nonetheless a fun time for RPG dorks.

98. Solomon's Key (Tecmo, 1987)

A surprisingly faithful port of the arcade title of the same name, Solomon's Key is one of the better-remembered early NES games for good reason.  Basically a mashup of action, platforming and puzzle game, your goal was simple enough at a glance - get the key and get to the door before time ran out.  Of course, like any good puzzle game, it quickly proved to have a lot of hidden challenges and secrets to uncover.  Figuring out how to evade enemies, searching the boards for hidden items, and using your limited supply of fireballs to strategically defeat enemies and advance all became key strategic elements.  The game also featured three different endings depending on how many hidden goals you completed - if you wanted the best one, you had to free the fairy princess and collect both missing pages of Solomon's Key on your way to the final stage.

97. Micro Machines (Codemasters, 1991)

Codemasters was definitely one of the most prominent unlicensed NES developers, with their distinctive gold and silver cartridges with the switches on the back, games frequently being sold on TV shopping networks and Nintendo trying (and repeatedly failing) to sue them into oblivion.  Micro Machines was probably their most popular NES game; based on the toy line known for the fast-talking commercials with the Micro Machine Man (played by the always awesome John Moschitta Jr.), it was a top-down racer with a pretty clever gimmick in that you were a tiny car driving through tracks constructed in everyday places like a garage, a garden, a kitchen table or even a pool table.  You got quite a variety of vehicles too, from Warrior cars with spiked fronts that could crush your opponent to boats to sports cars to helicopters to tanks (with fireable turrets, no less).  A highly-regarded NES racer that spawned several sequels, with the Sega Genesis versions even having controller ports built right into the cartridge to eliminate the need for a four-player adapter.  Fun stuff!