Come and reminisce about the first five years of Nintendo games.
By Benjamin Turner & Christian Nutt
Faxanadu (1988 USA)
I consider a few games I like to be guilty pleasures, and this is one of them. Even when it came out, Faxanadu
's gameplay felt a little stiff and rusty, but the enticing combination of dark, moody visuals and timelessly catchy music made it an action / RPG worth playing. Incidentally it was developed by Falcom, a company that would soon win renown for its Ys
series of action / RPGs. This is one of their B titles, but an enjoyable one.
I tried to enjoy this game at the time, but I found it frustrating and confusing. I've gone back to it since and I can definitely see its charms. I became a Falcom devotee on the TurboGrafx, thanks to Ys
, so I learned a bit of trivia: Faxanadu
is a collusion of Famicom
is a popular Falcom game series in Japan, and when they did an original game in it for the Famicom, that's how they named it. I love
stupid little factoids like that.
The Final Fantasy Series
Goonies II: Fratelli Saigo no Chousen / The Goonies II (1987 USA)
In 1987, thanks to a number of missteps, Square was in danger of fading away into nothingness, so it used its remaining resources to create what it thought would be its swan song: Final Fantasy
. So the story that explains the series' title goes, anyway. I just knew the game had a cool title and looked like the kind of thing I was starting to get interested in, and when my best friend Jeff called me to clue me in to how it was cooler than I'd even dreamed, I couldn't wait to check it out. The first Final Fantasy
, which debuted in the U.S. three years after its Japan debut (just like Dragon Warrior
before it), was Nintendo attempting to get Americans interested in RPGs again. Anecdotally, I'd say it was more effective, since FF
was a much more fully-realized game than the first DW
, and I know that my friends and I responded.
Final Fantasy III
Of course, Japanese kids loved it even more. After Final Fantasy
hit in December of 1987 and made waves, Square prepared a sequel for almost exactly a year later, debuting Final Fantasy II
in December of 1988. Final Fantasy III
appeared in April of 1990, before the original Final Fantasy
had even hit U.S. gamers. Square had, probably on the strength of Rad Racer
, decided to open a U.S. branch to distribute its own NES games. With the rise of the SNES in 1991 concurrent with the release of Final Fantasy IV
, Square ignored FFII
in favor of the newer model. Of course, at the time I had no clue -- I was just amazed at how much better "Final Fantasy II
" was than the original. Thankfully, the recently released Final Fantasy Origins
compilation for PlayStation offers FF
in excellently remade form, so you can see just how bizarre the gameplay systems at the core of FFII
The vast majority of NES-based movie games are crap. Not so with Goonies II
, one of the highlights of Konami's early library. The game featured the Cyndi Lauper hit "The Goonies R Good Enough" as background music in the first area, and it featured a lengthy quest split across two sides of a labyrinthine corridor system. I really enjoyed this game, but I didn't actually ever manage to beat
it. It was long and hard, but a lot of fun to explore. In fact, I don't think I know anyone who beat it without the assistance of the maps in The Official Nintendo Player's Guide
. The title referred to the fact that there had been a previous Famicom Goonies
game that didn't come to the U.S., but I think most kids I knew thought it was supposed to be a sequel to the movie. Since you had to rescue trapped Goonies and Annie the Mermaid, it certainly didn't relate to the movie I knew and loved.
But that's not a bad thing. After finally seeing The Goonies
recently, I was appalled at how annoying those kids were. I mean, really. Little jerks!
Highway Star / Rad Racer (1987 USA)
Nintendo didn't have a realistic driving game, so it co-opted one released in Japan by Square, who hadn't quite hit the U.S. yet. Rad Racer
was surprisingly compelling for an early effort from a (then) no-name developer. The sense of speed is appreciable, with twisty roads and a road that doesn't just look flat -- nice hills and swoops, even if they don't make much of a difference in the gameplay. I borrowed this one from a neighbor and remember being pleasantly surprised by it. The title sucks, though -- the Japanese moniker, Highway Star
, sounds much less dated these days. There was some sort of gimmick involving those cardboard red/blue 3D glasses but I gave up on that after only a few minutes. Square would later release Rad Racer II
in the U.S., but nobody noticed.
The Mega Man Series
Metal Gear (1988 USA)
Celebrating the 15th anniversary of Mega Man
is bittersweet, as the series doesn't exactly resemble its origins. Whether you look at the downward-trending Mega Man X
games or the compelling RPGs of the Mega Man Battle Network
series, the original hero is nowhere to be found -- and he originally meant so much. I picked up the first Mega Man
game based on some images I'd seen in a rip-off of The Official Nintendo Player's Guide
published by some other company. I remembered wondering how such a cool-looking game had slipped past me and everyone I knew. By 1988, it was hard to find Mega Man
in stores, but it was well worth it.
Mega Man II
When Mega Man II
hit in 1989, everyone knew it was awesome and it was one of those "it" games the NES was jammed with. I couldn't help like feeling I got in at the ground floor, so to speak. The second Mega Man
game did some impossibly cool stuff with the NES -- stealing your enemies' weapons had originated in the first game, and it was as cool as ever, but the giant bosses from the second game's final levels blew everyone away, along with its catchy music, great level design, neat enemies, and excellent variety.
Mega Man III
It was followed up in 1990 by Mega Man III
, which is my favorite MM
game for NES. Opinions are divided over whether II
is the pinnacle, but I couldn't have been more into the third installment. I even, with the help of a friend, figured out a way to turn designing Mega Man
levels and enemies into a school project. The Mega Man
sequels soldiered on even as most developers left the NES behind; Capcom released IV
in 1991 and V
in 1992, with Nintendo releasing VI
in the U.S. due to Capcom's disinterest in the series as the quality decreased. The series' next great installment after III
was Mega Man 8
for the Saturn and PlayStation, to my mind, though the original Mega Man X
for SNES hit all the right buttons, too. I'm still waiting for Capcom to announce Rockman 9
Hideo Kojima's legacy of tactical espionage action began on the Japanese MSX computer, and continued here, in this capable port to the Famicom. While the English version is known for its loopy translation ("I feel asleep!") as much as its gameplay, Metal Gear
really was a very innovative action / adventure game. Before playing it, I had never even considered using the element of stealth as a gameplay mechanic, and it took quite a while to adjust and figure out how to cope. I'm not sure what new players would think of it today, but I do know this: At least it doesn't have 30 minute codec conversations about your nerdy operator's oedipal past.
Next: Closin' Out '87 »
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