Our friend UKNESBoy is back with another ace NES article! This week, he gives us his top ten (out of the 30 or so) Black Label (Black Box) NES games, the ones that kicked off the catalogue of one of the most successful consoles of all time. Agree with him/disagree with him? Drop us a line on social media or the comments below!
- Wrecking Crew
One of the launch titles for the console, the game puts in control as Mario in order to destroy all of a certain object on screen, be it walls, pillars, ladders or barrels. In order to accomplish this, Mario has a whacking-great hammer that is so powerful it prohibits Mario from jumping. Oh the humanity! A little bit of being a puzzle game is thrown in for good measure too knowing what should be destroyed and will help you reach the end of the level. A positive aspect of the game is that it also features a level editor so you can create your own levels – the down side is that you can only save these to a peripheral released solely in Japan, called the Famicom Data Recorder. This therefore means the save/load feature of your own levels is somewhat redundant but for an early NES game, it as a nice feature to have. It may not be the most memorable game in the NES library, but don’t let that fool you – a great game to kick off the list and worthy of a play even if it is overshadowed by more popular games such as Super Mario Bros.
- Pro Wrestling
Before the days that the WWE took over professional rasslin’ and subsequent home entertainment in the form of video games, Nintendo released Pro Wrestling, featuring 6 original dashing characters:
Fighter Hayabusa, Star Man, Kin Corn Karn, Giant Panther, The Amazon, King Slender
In-game, the graphics and gameplay looked detailed – you’ll notice the crowd cheering you on in the background, two commentators dressed in black and a cameraman at the bottom of the screen following the action. For an early NES game, the detail is quite impressive. Colourful detailed graphics, controls that although may appear simple are in-fact complex but responsive, and a ready-made meme in “WINNER IS YOU” what more could you want from a wrestling game? If you don’t like wrestling games this may be one that is easily overlooked however as a neutral it’s worth a bash to get those fingers pumping away and claim a winner is you.
One of only two games on the NES that utilised everyone’s favourite robotic peripheral R.O.B, Gyromite in isolation is a standard side-scrolling game however made more memorable by having the assistance of R.O.B. What was always a pause for thought was when booting up the game rather than saying Gyromite it said on screen “Robot Gyro” – back then, there was no internet and nothing to explain why this was the case. It is only now thanks to the wonder of technology and the passage of time that it is explained that Robot Gyro was the Japanese name of the game for the Famicom. Regardless of what you call the game, similar to how Duck Hunt is redundant without the light gun; the game is redundant without R.O.B but still a fun novelty experience worthy of being on a top ten list.
- Donkey Kong
One of the earliest games on the list, released as a launch title for the Famicom in 1983 having been ported from the arcade version that was released in 1981. An early example of a game in the platform genre, the goal is to climb up ladders and ascending upwards on the stage jumping over barrels, fireballs and gaps to rescue Princess Peach Pauline (the name you may recognise from the New Donk City level of Super Mario Odyssey). Along the way, the title character Donkey Kong will throw items at you to put you off, the wily thing – wonder whatever happened to him? As per any true arcade game there is no plot, just four differing levels that when completed the stages repeat but become harder and faster. Donkey Kong will throw the barrels faster at you and fireballs speed up. It is interesting to see the beginnings of characters that we are so familiar with now and accustomed to seeing. A worthy addition to the list, and one that made Nintendo a heck a lot of money but worthy of your time and attention as it plays like a dream and features everyone’s favourite heroine – Pauline!
One of only a few dedicate motocross games, it is the second game in the list with which you can create your own levels and save them to the Japanese-only peripheral the Famicom Data Recorder. Straight forward controls that are tight and responsive, alongside music and sound effects that for a game released in the infancy of the console is quite impressive. No music whilst racing but impressive sound effects nonetheless. Like Pro Wresting, there is a cameraman in the background filming the race, giving the illusion the race is being shown on TV. Maybe at the time Nintendo liked the idea of realism and having a cameraman filming sporting events? Nevertheless, even if racing games are not your bag, the devil is in the detail and Excitebike has it in droves.
- Balloon Fight
Based on the 1982 arcade game Joust, this game as well was released in 1984 in arcades before being ported to the NES. The idea is that you are a balloon fighter, in your fancy Mario-esque coloured outfit with 2 balloons, hitting the enemies balloons in rounds or “phases”. When this has been achieved, the enemy will float down gracefully, waiting for you to attack their dying carcass once more. Failing that, at the bottom of the screen in the middle is a lake where a fish eats the enemy for you. Pretty sweet! As per all good arcade games, the levels get harder and harder but provides a good challenge, like other arcade titles on the console. Justifiably it ranks higher on the list than most arcade-type games on the console to its nice coloured graphics, tight controls and the adorable fish residing in the bottom of the lake waiting to chomp on you if you get too close.
- Kung Fu
A side-scrolling beat-em-up and a personal favourite of all the Black Box games on the NES, the game sold over 3.5m cartridges which obviously shows the quality of the game right?…..Erm anyway you fight your way through five levels of the awesomely-titled Devil’s Temple to rescue your lady friend Sylvia from the mysteriously named Mr X. The naming in the game are on point, the temple sounds cool the final boss sounds cool, you go round punching and kicking the grunts – again how cool? Although the game is relatively short to complete (according to Speeddemosarchive, the record is 3 minutes 54), it is still one of the best black box games on the NES and is fun to pick up and play if time is not on your side. With the fluid controls and fun enemies, you do feel a sense of achievement defeating the level boss and walking up the stairs, making you one step closer to rescuing Sylvia.
- Duck Hunt
A launch title in the US in October 1985, Duck Hunt is arguably the most famous shooter game on the console (or light gun shooter for those perfectionists out there). The gameplay is simple yet intuitive – shoot the ducks on screen (or clay pigeons in one game mode) two at the time, ignore the laughing dog and make it as far as you can as the game gets quicker and harder. Given the game only works with the light gun, sadly this isn’t a game that can be played on a console using modern TV’s – it has to be played on an old CRT television due to the technology. It has been argued that the game paired with the NES gun made the NES memorable – it isn’t the sole reason but certainly adds a certain something to the console, as who didn’t point the NES gun at the TV, one eye shut and pretend they were really shooting ducks with pinpoint precision? And who didn’t unload a full gunload in that blasted laughing dog?
Popeye is the quintessential text-book definition of an “arcade” game, ported over to the Nintendo Entertainment System (if that wasn’t made clear by the “arcade classics series” on the box and the graphic of a gamer hunched over an arcade cabinet). As per most of the early arcade games, played either on the console or in its original format at the cabinet, there is no end screen and not a point where the game is completed, you’re playing to attain the highest score possible so to keep playing until you run out of lives. Popping in the game and turning the console on, you’re treated to an 8-bit rendition of the theme tune and you know what? It certainly is not a bad effort at it, it’ll have you singing along before any button is presses and you won’t want it to end. Arcade ports certainly fared well when they were ported to the Nintendo early in the NES catalogue, and although nothing can recreate the feeling of pumping coins into a smoke-filled loud arcade machine, Nintendo done a good job porting this to the console to recreate the gameplay you’d expect at the arcade.
- Super Mario Bros
What can be said about the game that hasn’t been said before? It can be argued it was the game and on a console that kick-started the video game industry after the crash of 1983 with consumer and retailer confidence at an all-time low. The controls, the music, the gameplay everything about the game is exquisite and the fact it is referenced more than 30 years after it’s release in memes and YouTube videos shows the strength of the game and it’s legacy fully cemented in the history of video games. In fact, in an interview back in 2010, lead programmer for Sonic the Hedgehog Yuji Naka said that running through 1-1 as fast as he could was the inspiration for the initial concept of Sonic the Hedgehog. The game is frequently cited as one of the greatest video games of all time and has sold over 40 million copies and fully justified as being number one on this list. If you haven’t played this, then after reading this list it is something you need to do. Go on, go now – go play it and revel in its wonder.
Another fantastic article from UKNESBoy – now go follow him on Twitter.