Fancy graphics are fine, but all gamers know in their hearts that nothing will ever top the drama of Final Fantasy VII or the pure physicality of Super Mario Bros. 3. Playboy’s Retro Gaming articles look at why we love the classics and give you your nostalgia fix.
The Nintendo Entertainment System, a console that just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, has cemented its place in gaming history without question. This goliath of a console had one of the largest libraries in gaming history and is still receiving hacks and fan games to this day. That ubiquity can make collecting the console and its games a joy and a challenge.
It’s a hard one to collect complete in box (CIB) for, as the original boxes were cardboard and can be hard to find, but it remains one of the best and most sought after libraries for collectors of all types. There are a lot of titles towards the end of the NES life cycle that really pushed the technology and look amazing. The system has also had some of the most interesting and notorious peripherals in existence.
The console itself is easy to find around the $50-$60 price range and is pretty durable. I recommend taking it apart and cleaning the insides. Because the NES library is so large it is often referred to as having the most hidden gems, but what I want to share are some of the more popular and cheaper games that are easy to get for beginners that remain easy on the wallet and contain hours of fun gameplay.
10. ‘SUPER MARIO BROS.’ 1, 2 AND 3
Let’s get this one out of the way first. Some will say these are too obvious of a choice, but it might actually be the best one as well. There is a reason why Mario has been Nintendo’s top mascot for decades. These are the titles that sailed a thousand ships (consoles), being games that every kid had to have, as the first one brought gaming back to North America after Atari tanked the whole industry in the ‘80s.
The Mario games are a cornerstone of the NES library and have in many ways changed the way fans see games and how they should control, or how we game in general, since I still try to jump on bad guys’ heads in every game I play. These run from $8-$20 and are must-owns for anyone.
9. ‘BLASTER MASTER’
Not only does it have a title that makes me want to watch Mad Max films, this is an innovative game that mixes multiple perspectives, action and exploration segments in an exciting adventure. It is a long game that teaches basic jumping skills with solid controls and fun level design. The graphics look great for the system and I am a fan of its energetic soundtrack.
The story is a little odd, following Jason, his mutant frog Fred, and an awesome looking alien tank named Sophia the 3rd, but I love the scene at the beginning and wanted more of the story. The bosses and upgrades keep me wanting to get farther in the game, and I am constantly popping it back in the system to try again. It can usually be found for about $8 or less and is honestly worth more.
A cult classic that is often called a mix of The Legend of Zelda and Final Fantasy stands out on its own and still holds up as one of the best NES games available. Players will find themselves tackling a post-apocalyptic world and collecting elemental swords to stop a mad emperor who has melded science and magic.
The game has a wonderful visual presentation and a solid story that will sound a little familiar to fans of the genre, but there is no need to fix something that was never broken. The sound for the game really stands out—I have friends who can hum the entire thing. This is a title is a solid role playing title with many hours of gameplay. It was far ahead of its time and can be found for around $15, but I expect that price to rise as it is worth a lot more.
A bounty hunter named Samus Aran has a large task in front of her, and there are a ton of space pirates, parasitic aliens, and a large brain standing in her way. Players investigate the planet Zebes, but this game doesn’t hold hands or offer a map function, so be prepared to draw your own. Exploration is a huge key as the player picks up abilities and upgrades to help Samus traverse the dangerous environments and defeat tough enemies.
The game lets the player go at their own pace and will encourage multiple playthroughs, as there are various time-based endings, one of which famously surprised many players when it revealed that Samus is a woman. What drew me to the title though is the isolation—one versus all—in a creepy atmosphere with sinister sounds themes similar to the title’s influence, the hit film Alien. This is a title that costs a bit more, running between $19-$23 with two different labels.
6. ‘A BOY AND HIS BLOB: TROUBLE ON BLOBOLONIA’
A puzzle game with some interesting mechanics, this title offers something different from the usual action-based titles. The player takes control of an unnamed protagonist, helping a blob save his homeworld and causing the player to stretch those mental muscles, using various flavors of jellybeans to manipulate the alien’s shape and traverse the harsh terrain while dodging danger.
This is a title that can be quite challenging and will require some trial and error, but often feels rewarding to the players it doesn’t scare away. The soundtrack is sadly nothing special and the color pallet was bland, but the gameplay is fun and memorable, making it a solid title for any collection with a memorable name. The game can be found for around $10 usually and there was a re-imagining of it on the Wii, but it doesn’t look like the series is done yet, so now is the time to get in at the beginning.
5. ‘THE LEGEND OF ZELDA’
Not only one of Nintendo’s best selling games, but a forerunner in the industry, The Legend of Zelda spawned one of the greatest series in the company’s history. This top down adventure gave players control over Link to retrieve the Triforce of Wisdom and defeat the evil Ganon, all to save the Princess of a land called Hyrule. Partially inspired by Shigeru Miyamoto’s time spent exploring caves and woods as a kid, the player must do the same to conquer dark dungeons and unearth secrets, items, and weapons to finish his quest.
Not only did it establish the tenants of a genre and open the eyes of many as to how much could be put into one game, but the title offered an entire world that felt alive. The journey could be accomplished in many different orders, and many of the upgrades were unnecessary to beat the game, giving it a sort of freedom to play the game how the player wanted. The sequel is good too, but quite different and often argued about. This game goes for $20-$25 and is worth every penny.
4. ‘ADVENTURES OF LOLO’ 1, 2 AND 3
In the cutest game I have to offer next to Bubble Bobble, Lala has been kidnapped by King Egger and it is up to Lolo to storm the castle and get her back in this puzzle adventure title. It’s a typical story that tries to give characteristics to a blue ball, but this matches the simple mechanics that are new player friendly and fun, but should not be underestimated. Each room in the castle is a puzzle that must be solved without being hit, causing the player to depend on their reflexes and make quick and careful decisions.
The graphics and music are both decent, but it is the play style and flow that gives this title a huge amount of replay value and an addictive quality. Not only do I recommend it as a puzzle game mainstay, but the sequels are good and more challenging as well. The price of this game fluctuates a lot, but I have found it several times for under $10 with the sequels tending to go for anywhere from $20-$35. Having the whole series would certainly be a plus.
3. ‘CASTLEVANIA’ SERIES
Take up the whip and attempt to destroy Dracula in a fun and challenging action game, gathering items, dodging deathtraps, and combating true evil in the devil’s castle. In what is considered to be one of the best critically acclaimed series on the console, many of the rules for how games played from this point out were set by these titles. The controls were a bit stiff, with jumping mechanics that will take a bit of getting used to, but the challenge makes each kill feel rewarding. That is a good thing, because death comes often and I remember the bosses being quite hard to defeat.
Castlevania II fell victim to a horrible translation, but even it can be fun with a guide and some patience. The entire series has some of the best video game music out there. Each consecutive game managed to make changes—for better or worse—and mostly improve on the ideas of the last, adding to the depth of gameplay and lore. The second game is the cheapest, being less sought after, and is available for $8-$10, while the first and third are closer to $25 & $30 respectively.
2. ‘NINJA GAIDEN’ 1, 2 and3
For something a little more difficult featuring a story with plenty of intrigue, might I recommend a series that has thwarted me for ages? Following the adventures of Ryu Hayabusa, this side-scrolling adventure will require skill and precision as it has players master sword techniques, items, magic, and wall-clinging—which is a must—to defeat treacherous levels and dangerous bosses in what is held up as one of the most brutal games for the NES library.
The story is kept in high esteem as well, since it is one of the first games to have what we now commonly refer to as cutscenes, with moving images done in an anime style that were gripping from the start. The fast-paced hack-and-slash style of the series was rarely matched on the console, also providing good environments and music for each level, setting the groundwork for a series that still has a lot of strength left in it, as fans new and old are constantly going back to revisit Ryu’s journey in America. The first two games are easy to get at $10-$15, but the third will run closer to $60.
1. ‘STREET FIGHTER 2010: THE FINAL FIGHT’
Don’t let the title or reputation fool you, because this is a fun action fighting game. The English version oddly changed the main character’s name and weirdly tied it back to the first Street Fighter game, but what’s important is that the player fights in outer space taking down aliens, because the cutscenes make little sense past “revenge.” The controls do take a little bit of getting used to with the different maneuvers and mastering the combat may take much longer.
Killing small enemies eads to some complex boss fights that are linked together by a meter that is built up so portals spawn to gain access the next area. This title can be challenging, but that was one thing that kept me coming back. It has a great soundtrack and some of the stages really stand out artistically for the time, but most importantly it is a steal for around $8 or cheaper.
Each of these titles will entertain and help begin a collection of any size, even if they may not be the perfect fit for everyone.
Writing in the dirty South, recovering internet addict Stephen Wilds wakes up every night wrestling with nightmares of Silent Hill and stray commas. You may follow his exploits on Twitter @StephenWilds.
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