In the good old days when I’d rent NES games (primarily of the bootleg kind), the cartridge Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project was on when I first came across it was one of those many-in-one carts. It had neat games like Binary Land, Arkanoid and Wrecking Crew… But it also had an amazing game that pretty much took over my life at the time, and has been my favourite ever since. Tecmo’s Captain Tsubasa II: Super Striker – the football/soccer RPG whose excellence I already talked about in the Top 10 Hidden NES Gems list. I remember when I first found out the sound test menu by accident, I was so happy I could listen to my favourite music from the game for as long as I wanted. Today, I’m sharing my favourite theme from Captain Tsubasa II, the theme of Hyuga and Wakashimazu’s Toho FC, which you’ll hear during one of the most difficult matches in the game. It’s quite badass, fitting the team and especially its captain nicely.
Composers: Mayuko Okamura, Mikio Saito, Keiji Yamagishi
Game: Captain Tsubasa vol. II: Super Striker
Song: Hyuga’s Theme (Toho FC)
Battletoads were, of course, considered a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles knockoff back in the day. In reality, the two had little in common aside from being about fighting human/animal mutants. Another thing they had in common was awesome NES games. The first TMNT NES game is quite notorious for its difficulty, much like Battletoads, and a lot of people hate it. Not me, though, it’s one of my favourite NES games. But my true TMNT favourite is The Manhattan Project, the third game in the NES turtle series. Aside from being a really balanced beat-’em-up, unlike its predecessor, the shoddy port of the first turtle arcade game, it also had a really good soundtrack – not uncommon for an 8-bit Konami game. My favourite theme plays in Scene 5, which takes place in the sewers.
Composer: Yuichi Sakakura,Tomoya Tomita, Kouzou Nakamura
Game: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project
Song: Scene 5
SNK are known for the notoriety of their fighting game bosses… But back in the day, games were just much more difficult than they are now. To beat a game was an achievement in itself, and some games took it even further. Take Rare’s Battletoads, an NES gem and probably one of the first games people (at least those who have played NES games) will think of if you ask them to name incredibly hard games. It’s a huge hurdle to even make it past a quarter of the game, and playing co-op actually made your job harder rather than easier. Aside from the difficulty, the game also had some really rad music, with the Pause theme being particularly popular (in more recent times, partly also thanks to AVGN). And this week, I’m sharing one of them with you – Stage 2′s theme.
Composer: David Wise
Song: Wookie Hole
Despite my large backlog of more recent games, I still love to do some retro gaming on the side (and by “retro,” I mean 8-bit and 16-bit games, even if many would already put the PS1 era in that category). Recently, I decided to finally give some attention to a game I spent quite some time with as a kid, but could never beat – the original Mega Man (or Rockman, as I knew it back then). For old time’s sake, I got the Japanese version that I was familiar with. Playing on my PSP and willing to see it through to the end, I was no stranger to abusing save states… The game just requires considerable skill to be beaten, especially by a first-time player. But, even so, I thought Mega Man had kept its magic through the years.
Game: Mega Man
Platforms: NES, Mobile, Wii/3DS Virtual Console; Mega Drive/Genesis (part of Mega Man: The Wily Wars collection), PlayStation (enhanced remake), PlayStation 2, Xbox, GameCube (part of Mega Man Anniversary Collection), PlayStation Portable (as Mega Man: Powered Up – enhanced remake)
Original release: 1987
The first Mega Man game is often criticised and considered inferior to the sequels (especially Mega Man 2 and 3), but I’ve always felt that criticism was a bit unfair. It laid the foundations for what Mega Man would become – one of, if not THE signature series for the NES, later spawning countless other games (in several separate series) and even a couple of cartoons. Pick a stage, go through it, defeat the robot master at the end, collect his special power to use later against another robot master. A simple formula in hindsight, but, for its time, it was something very original. The game’s notorious difficulty doesn’t do it any favours (as a kid, I would manage to beat 5 robot masters, only to give up at the Guts Man stage because of those moving platforms in the beginning…), but at least there are unlimited continues (even if there were no passwords) and you don’t lose your progress. It’s also quite fulfilling to choose the right power (as long as you have it) and be able to defeat a robot master in 3-4 hits instead of like 20.
This review provides screenshots captured by me.
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For the longest time, I thought that the main character in Tokyuu Shirei Solbrain was just the Japanese take on RoboCop. It was weird that he’d use his fists to fight instead of a pistol like the real RoboCop, but hey. In the English version, called Shatterhand, the character didn’t look remotely like RoboCop. Anyway, here is another awesome 8-bit tune, the Factory stage theme from that game.
Composers: Iku Mizutani, Koichi Yamanishi
Game: Shatterhand / Tokyuu Shirei Solbrain
Song: Area B: Factory
Spider-Man’s NES game was not quite top-notch quality, but another Marvel hero, Captain America, had an awesome entry on the 8-bit system, created by Data East. Iron Man and Vision had been kidnapped by The Mandarin, so it was up to Cap and Hawkeye to save their Avengers teammates. It was a relatively long and considerably difficult game, the last couple of battles being especially excruciating. The coolest part was probably the ability to switch between Captain America and Hawkeye once you passed the same level with both in succession. Anyway, Hawkeye’s theme was my favourite from the game.
Composer: Momoi Miura
Game: Captain America and the Avengers (NES)
Song: Hawkeye’s Theme
Speaking of superheroes, here is a song from the only Spider-Man game on the NES, Return of the Sinister Six. That game was incredibly difficult, the controls were a bit off sometimes, but one just couldn’t help playing and enjoying a superhero game as a kid. The music is the thing I remember most fondly, and this is my favourite tune – the one playing during Sandman’s stage.
Composer: David Whittaker
Game: Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six (NES)
Song: Sandman’s Stage
While playing through the Uncharted series and trying to finally reach level 60 in Diablo III, I still do some retro gaming on the side, mostly on my PSP. In 2011, I had started a legendary RPG series in Dragon Quest, and I played the first three in succession before a year-long break. But the fourth game just had to be played, I had to at least finish the NES entries, though I do not know when, if ever, I’ll go on with the SNES ones. The first game is indeed quite important to the industry as a whole, but just not a very good game – I thought the second and especially the third one were nice improvements. So I expected the fourth one to be at least on the level of its really fun predecessor. And, at the end, I’ve got to say there were certainly some things it did better, but I also sorely missed others.
Game: Dragon Quest IV
Original release: 1990
Territories: Japan, North America (as Dragon Warrior IV)
Dragon Quest IV is the first in the series that tries harder to establish a few memorable characters, and even the villain is rather interesting. The main story, as a whole, is still rather generic, but at least the various characters and the villain’s roles in it put it a step above the first three games. It’s an achievement for the series. Gameplay-wise, the game is split into chapters (the recent DS remake even carries the subtitle “Chapters of the Chosen”). Once you reach the main part of the game, you are forced to rely on AI-controlled allies more than you normally feel comfortable. But fortunately, they are adequate most of the time.
The screenshots in this review are my own.
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After I published the Top 10 Hidden NES Gems list, several readers (especially people from GameFAQs) immediately suggested other hidden NES gems that I had missed. I hadn’t had the chance to play most of those, and I quickly found and added them to my PSP. Many 5-minute trials later, I had chosen the next NES game to play, and it was Vice: Project Doom, a game that would have surely made that list had I played it earlier. It managed to grab me from the very beginning, and that’s not an easy task for an NES game, with many of the best ones starting slow or just being notoriously difficult from the get-go (I’m looking at you, Bionic Commando).
Vice: Project Doom had no such problems. After a couple of cool cutscenes (the one played if you wait a while on the title screen being quite intriguing), I found out that it was a cool car game a la Spy Hunter where you could shoot at your enemies from your car. A couple minutes later, I found out that it was just one of the several playstyles the game offered (later I’d find out there were three in total). The most stages in the game are side-scroller ones, with the aforementioned driving and also first-person shooting via moving a target across the screen taking place in a few of them. The game is just great fun, it offers a good challenge, but keeps it reasonable (there are infinite continues, making it possible for a first-time player with a little patience to beat it without abusing save states).
Game: Vice: Project Doom
Original release: 1991
Territories: Japan (released under the name Gun-Dec), North America
This is another review where I am providing my own screenshots, captured, like Wonder Boy’s, on the PSP.
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NES is not my first game system, that was an Atari 2600 Jr., but I’ve got really fond memories of the NES, as it was a vital part of my early years as a gamer, especially in middle school. And let’s face it – there were just so many great games on it. Some people, usually having started in the 16-bit era or later, just love to reduce the NES’s significance, as far as games are concerned, to “Mario 1 and 3, the original Zelda and Mega Man”… But, having much more experience with the system than them, I know they are wrong. And this list is already good enough proof. Don’t expect to find any famous games here. These are the Top 10 hidden NES gems.
See the list