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11/02/2021

Top 120 NES Games, #72-61

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.

70. Guerilla War (SNK, 1987)

Named "Guevara" in Japan and appropriately starring Che Guevara and Fidel Castro as they waged a two-man battle to liberate Cuba, SNK (quite wisely) decided to remove all real-life references when they brought the game to America in both arcade and NES form.  The arcade version of the game featured a rotary joystick that allowed the player to move in one direction and fire in another at the same time, something they attempted to recreate in the first two Ikari Warriors games on NES with pretty terrible results.  Thankfully, the port of Guerilla War abandons this idea and just has four-directional movement and firing, as well as considerably quicker gameplay speed.  It's great, fast-paced fun, especially with two players blowing up everything in their path.

69. Crisis Force (Konami, 1991 in Japan)

The Konami shmup legacy continues, and Crisis Force is arguably one of the best they've ever done.  It's a unique one too in terms of design, with a technological ancient Egyptian theme and some huge, detailed sprites every step of the way.  Your ship could also transform into three different configurations - one that fires multiple guns forward, one that fires forward and backward and one that fires in three directions simultaneously, allowing you to adapt to your challenges, and one could even collect parts that would combine both players' ships into one large and very powerful one for a short period.  Really fun stuff, though it does tend to get laggy when the action gets intense (especially in two-player mode).  Unfortunately, being released so late in the system's life also ensured that not too many people played it even in Japan, making it a rare and spendy title nowadays.

68. Double Dragon (Technos, 1988)

Definitely one of the most popular beat-em-up franchises of the 80s, Double Dragon was nothing short of an institution  at the time.  It had several sequels and home ports to just about every platform imaginable, a live action movie and even a cartoon series.  Probably the most well-known and successful port of the time was the NES version, which was a very different beast from the arcade (and pretty much every other home port, for that matter).  Much different levels and a unique leveling system tied to unlocking new moves made it a distinct experience, as did a two-player versus mode well before the age of Street Fighter II.  It was also notoriously buggy and lacked a two-player mode owning to the developers' inexperience with the hardware, but that didn't hamper its enjoyment factor at all.  A great version of a classic.

67. Mega Man (Capcom, 1987)

Mega Man is probably better remembered today for its infamously terrible box art than for the game itself, but it shouldn't be; it kicked off a fantastic series of action-platformers and was a fine title in its own right.  It laid the groundwork for the series, featuring a protagonist who could defeat bosses and then take their weapons for himself, not only making later levels easier to deal with, but making him better prepared to take out other bosses who were weak against that particular weapon.  Bombs, fireballs, whirling scissors, lightning, an ice beam that could freeze enemies in place and, perhaps coolest of all, the ability to pick up and throw blocks bigger than himself to clobber foes.  It wasn't the most refined game ever - some bosses were monstrously difficult and it lacked several later series refinements like a password system or post-hit immunity protecting from spikes - but it was a great game anyway.

66. Balloon Fight (Nintendo, 1986)

It's Joust mixed with Joust and a dash of Joust on top. Well, okay, it's not a complete copy of Williams' classic arcade game; the hit detection is a bit more specific this time, requiring you to actually contact an opponent's balloons to break them rather than simply be a few pixels above them when you collide. There are also hazards like lightning, spinning bumpers and giant fish trying to eat you to impede your progress. There's also a new gameplay mode, "Balloon Trip", where the object is to make it as far as you can before you hit an electrified bumper or get eaten by a fish. It's one of the better early NES games and among the first to feature two player simultaneous play as well. So derivative it may be, but it's also quite a lot of fun.

65. Battle of Olympus (Infinity, 1989)

Zelda II is far from the most popular Zelda game today, but it was an influential game in its time, spawning a number of games that took heavy inspiration from its action-RPG format.  Some of these became popular in their own right (like Wonder Boy in Monster World) and others not so much (like Rambo).  Battle of Olympus is definitely one of the better attempts to replicate its style, though.  As in Zelda II, you'll explore dungeons and towns, acquire items that harm enemies and open new areas, and appeal to the gods to earn new weapons and armor to aid you in battle.  Some creative levels, enemies and puzzles round out the experience, making for a well-crafted, solid-playing action adventure that's largely overlooked these days.  Thankfully it is still relatively cheap on the secondhand market, so you can check it out without breaking your bank.

64. Zoda's Revenge: Startropics II (Nintendo, 1994)

One of the very last games officially released for the NES, and it was quite a good one. A followup to Startropics - a game curiously programmed by a Japanese development team but only ever released in the west - Startropics 2 featured tighter controls, crisper graphics and a new plot involving Mike travelling through time searching for the seven magical Tetrads. Oh yes, Nintendo had the Tetris license at the time and they wouldn't let you forget it.

Another welcome change was the general softening of the difficulty curve - while still very challenging, cheap shots that took off a third of your health bar were now a thing of the past, and making contact with the bosses wasn't an instant death sentence - you simply lost a large chunk of your health. Just a touch more of the problem-solving aspect and solid narrative of the original and this may very well have surpassed it!

63. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (Konami, 1988)

The sequel to the original classic Castlevania, which, like Zelda II, tried to change up its action-driven format into something more akin to an RPG.  Also like Zelda II, it wasn't quite as well-received by fans for a number of reasons, chief among them being its lackluster translation that made a number of essential clues much more difficult to decipher.  Still, those who could persevere through that found a game with a lot to offer- the same high-quality presentation that became a series trademark, a number of dungeons to explore, a couple of big bosses to fight, and a lot of creative upgrades and sub-weapons to unlock throughout.  It may not be regarded as one of the franchise's best by many of its fans, but it's certainly worth a look for fans of action-adventure titles.

(Fans of ROM hacks may also want to check out "Castlevania II Redaction", which addresses several criticized elements of the game - notably speeding up the text and day/night transitions and rewriting much of the dialog to provide useful clues.)

 62. Legacy of the Wizard (Nihon Falcom, 1989)

Falcom made a number of attempts to gain a foothold in the west with their action-oriented fantasy RPGs, but not too many of them made it big with audiences in the days of 8 and 16-bit gaming.  Legacy of the Wizard was arguably their most successful attempt, meshing elements of Zelda with those of Metroid to create an open-ended experience with just as heavy an emphasis on puzzle-solving as action.  Playing as five members of a family, each with their own differing abilities and stats (jumping higher, having greater range, doing more damage with their weapon, and so forth), you set forth to explore a dungeon, find four magic crowns and slay the dragon in the center of the maze.  Acquiring new tools throughout quickly becomes essential to clear some obstacles, and only by utilizing each character's unique talents can you reach every area and find everything you need, including the sword required to slay the dragon.  The game is rather difficult for a number of reasons and the mechanics can be clunky at times (particularly the block-pushing puzzles), but some charming visuals and a kickass soundtrack by Yuzo Koshiro and Mieko Ishikawa make it a captivating journey even in spite of that.

61. Chip & Dale's Rescue Rangers (Capcom, 1990)

One of many Disney-licensed platformers on the NES by Capcom, and one I rented many times as a kid because it was just a fun and addicting game.  Capcom's strong level design shines through here, delivering some creative stages like a kitchen (with faucets you have to turn off to pass through safely), a toy factory and treetops with attacking flying squirrels.  Some solid music and visuals also complete the package, as does a two-player simultaneous play option that makes for a fun romp, even if you tend to get in each other's way more than help.  The game is ultimately fairly short and not especially difficult to complete, but I still pop it in and play it to this day because it's a nostalgic favorite and a pretty damn fun platformer.