Take on the NES Library

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2016 Year In Review

It’s better late than never, right?

It is already June, but I finally got around to writing and posting the review of R.B.I. Baseball, which was the last NES game I finished in 2016. Now that I have aired out all of my opinions on those games, it’s time to take a look back and reflect on my first full year of Take On The NES Library.

I have had a blast doing this project so far. To recap, I jump-started the blog with the first 10 games being handpicked favorites, and that phase served its purpose of building up my momentum on the project. In mid-January I finished that subset and from there started in on the random game selections. There have been surprises both good and bad, and now that I’ve come this far I don’t plan to stop. 2017 to date has been much slower, but I hope I will catch my stride and churn out a good number of finishes for next year’s review. In the meantime, I amassed a pretty wide variety of new game completions with many fun memories and accomplishments.

For the year in review, I am taking an “award show” approach where I will choose a couple of games in several different categories. It would be really easy to give a lot of these awards to the first ten games, so I am going to skip these. (Most of them were technically finished in 2015 anyway.) Everything from The Immortal to R.B.I. Baseball is fair game. With a little help, I think I have a pretty interesting list of fake awards that should give most games their due. Without further ado, here we go!

The 2016 Take On The NES Library Year In Review

Hardest Game

Ikari Warriors

This should come as a shock to no one. I played this game over a 4-month stretch, clocked in more than 100 hours, and put in over 300 attempts just to beat this game one time without the ABBA code. This is the hardest game I have ever beaten. It’s my crowning video game achievement to date and nothing else really comes close.

Top Gun

Top Gun came in at a distant second place in difficulty, but it’s worth mentioning. The game is pretty short but very unforgiving. It requires memorization, dodging skills, and aiming skills, all with a very tight margin for error. Flight games are not my specialty either, which certainly added to my troubles here.

Easiest Game

Fisher-Price: Perfect Fit

It may be a bit unfair to pick a children’s learning game as the easiest game, but it certainly fits the bill. All you have to do is put various objects and shapes in their right place on the screen under a very generous time limit. Sometimes you have to flip the objects to get them to fit! So yes, it is a very easy game to clear.

The definition of 1/10 difficulty


This game does require more skill than Perfect Fit, however there is no penalty at all for failure so that it’s impossible to lose in single player mode so long as you keep playing.

Shortest Game

Spy Vs. Spy

Spy Vs. Spy takes less than a minute to beat on the smallest stage, and the ending is the same no matter which level you choose. The other stages are interesting enough to give a try which gives the game more substance, but if you want to see a game ending quickly there’s nothing shorter I’ve played.


I beat Archon on my first try having never played it before, and I was able to complete a full game in around 20 minutes. I beat it even faster the second time playing as the other team, and that wasn’t necessarily required anyway since there are only slight differences between teams. Short and sweet!

Longest Game

Ikari Warriors

A full run only takes an hour, but all my attempts and time spent added up in a major way. It’s been quite a long time since I put more than 100 hours into any game!


Not only did it take me a month to finish the game, but there are 100 levels which is a ton of content to work through. The pace is slow and there is a lot of waiting required, so even if you know exactly what to do it takes several hours to get through it all. The game does permit you to skip the first 75 levels outright, but those final levels take a good commitment and practice to work through. So even then it takes long enough.

Lots of walking and waiting in Lemmings

Oldest Game

Hogan’s Alley

The Black Box titles are usually among the earliest NES releases, and indeed Hogan’s Alley was one of the launch titles released in the US in October 1985.

Archon, Spelunker, and Spy Hunter

These NES ports came several years later, but the original versions of these games were all released sometime in 1983. It’s too bad that release dates are not really nailed down so it’s hard to tell exactly which one came out first. Gyruss was also originally in 1983, but the NES version is more of a remake than a port, so I’m not counting it!

Newest Game

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

The NES had licensed releases into 1994 but I didn’t play any of those last year. Bram Stoker’s Dracula was released in September 1993 which was the latest release and therefore the newest licensed game I played.

Alien 3

Alien 3 was released in April 1993, which is nearly six months earlier than Bram Stoker’s Dracula. However, it was the only other 1993 release I completed last year!

Best Character

Little Nemo: The Dream Master

Nemo’s transformations and versatility are what sets him apart as the best character of the bunch. You can dig as a mole, swim as a fish, and fly as a bee among several other animals. Despite the different control methods, each character controls very well and the abilities are intuitive for the most part.

The bee is my favorite!

The Guardian Legend

I guess character transformation is all the rage these days! The Guardian herself is ordinary in the exploration segments, but her transformation into a fighter jet is super cool. It helps that gameplay in the labyrinth and corridors is fun both ways.

Worst Character

The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants

Now I’m not saying that Bart Simpson himself is a bad character. I mean, he is still relevant today! That counts for something. He gets the nod as worst character here because of his poor control in this NES game. The jumping is so imprecise when it needs to be tight, and his run capability is delegated to the wrong button for sure.


I really like this game. I think the set of Lemming tasks is just the right combination to provide a real thoughtfulness to the gameplay. But it can’t be denied that the Lemmings themselves are just plain dumb. After all, the entire game is structured around saving these critters from walking willingly into death.

Best Ending

Little Nemo: The Dream Master

I think there is so much to like about this ending. Nemo saves the day, but all he wants to do is wake up in his own bed and go on with his normal life. Not only does he get to do just that, but we get to see it through a lovely ending cutscene. I love the song that plays through the credits roll too. It’s a strong overall package.

Ghoul School

I didn’t spoil the ending in my blog post on the game, but I will do that here. It’s funny to say this, but this ending could easily be described as the worst ending, and I wouldn’t argue it. Spike goes through this whole journey through the school to save his crush. We get to see the restoration of the school. Standing there with the woman he saved, and after all we went through, he goes to put his arm around her and she backs away. Talk about ungrateful! The irony of the whole situation is so comical that it makes this ending so great.

Not cool, man

Worst Ending


I get that many NES games opt for the simple ending, and that can be okay at times. In Paperboy, you have to survive all seven days which is no easy task. Your reward for completion is a screen nearly identical to the title screen which says, “Paperboy Retires In Glory.” Now that would be at least acceptable if that stayed up on the screen for more than a couple of seconds. Let me at least bask in my victory for a little while, sheesh. This especially annoys me when games do this since I take a picture of the ending screen, and it’s hard to get a decent picture when I have almost no time to take one.

Ikari Warriors

For all the time put in to beat this game, this ending was just not worth it at all. It may be better than Paperboy’s ending, but it’s hardly a reward. At least I can “take good rest” in the fact that I am “the very prevailer that protect right and justice.” It’s even possible to skip the ending altogether and immediately begin another loop of the game, in case you want the pain to never end.

Best Box Art

Burai Fighter

Burai Fighter Box Cover

There are two reasons why I like this box art more than all the others. The first is that I really like the bright red and yellow color scheme. There aren’t that many games that use bright yellow and that makes it really stand out. The other reason is that the huge, menacing dragon on the cover is so awesome. The fighter is just getting ready to lay heavy amounts of firepower right on its tongue. I was definitely excited to get to do that myself!


The Paperboy box is very simplistic, but I like it because I believe it is one of the most accurate depictions of the game. The Paperboy is either angry at everything in his way, or ultra-determined to do the best job he can at delivering papers. The main takeaway however is that he has just finished throwing four papers all at once. Thus, the box art establishes right away that you are not to be messed with as you spew newspapers all over the place.

Worst Box Art

The Guardian Legend

I think The Guardian Legend box art is fine, but both the Japanese and European box art are way better than what we got. It’s a real shame that we got the shaft like this. There’s a reason why I never quite pulled the trigger on renting the game back in the 90s, and perhaps the disappointing box art has something to do with that.


Astyanax Box Cover

This is another box art that’s not the worst I’ve ever seen, but there’s some weirdness going on here that I can’t ignore. It’s clear that Astyanax has no idea how to be a warrior just by looking at him. His sword isn’t in a great position to attack and he’s also holding the dragon’s arm for some reason I don’t want to know. The dragon himself looks more curious than angry at what Astyanax is attempting to do here. Meanwhile, Cutie is just floating above the scene while Princess Rosebud is doing some kind of mysterious orb dance. Perhaps this is why the game was relegated to the cheap bin.

Best Graphics

Journey to Silius

The folks at Sunsoft created some of the best graphics the NES has to offer, and Journey to Silius is no exception. I really like the look of the giant bosses in the game, and the animation of the flowing lava in the final stage is silky smooth. This is a great game all around.


The graphical style of this game is pretty similar to Journey to Silius, though Natsume is the developer this time. What really make me take notice in S.C.A.T. is the giant spaceship that makes up almost all of Stage 5. It’s a nice-looking piece of spacecraft. It has a nice sheen to it along with all kinds of destructible cannons and whatnot attached to it. I also like the bouncing lasers in the final stage. Graphically they are simple but the animation makes them look sweet on the NES.

Worst Graphics

Ghoul School

I will give the developers credit here that they took the time to add a lot of detail and embellishments to the school so that the different areas of the school look like how they are supposed to look. The locker room looks like a locker room, for instance. The artists also designed many monsters that only show up once. Despite all the apparent effort, the graphics and art style just don’t do it for me here. The details tend to be too plain, and the generic aliens are really ugly looking.

Fisher-Price: Perfect Fit

There aren’t a lot of graphics to speak of in this game, but the issue I have is that I can’t figure out what many of these objects are supposed to be. The letters and numbers are very clear, but most everything else is kind of a mess. Perhaps these are NES renderings of other Fisher-Price toys of the era. I think they would have been better off with some simpler toys.

Best Soundtrack


Tim Follin is one of the more highly regarded video game composers of the era, and for whatever reason he got to write the soundtrack for Pictionary. Now the title song is the only thing that matters here, and even though the music doesn’t fit the game at all it still stands as one of my favorite pieces of NES music ever. I’ve probably listened to it 50 times since I first beat Pictionary, it’s that good.

I spent a lot of time with this screen showing

Little Nemo: The Dream Master

As an overall body of work, the soundtrack for Little Nemo is just about as good as it gets. I think this is some of composer Junko Tamiya’s best work. The dreaminess of the music in the introductory cutscene is perfect, and many of the other tracks are very catchy and make the game better as a whole. This is the kind of music that gets stuck in your head for a long time.

Alien 3

I’m breaking convention here with a third choice. I think I like Journey to Silius soundtrack more, but I wanted to mention Alien 3 here as I believe its soundtrack is criminally underrated on NES. The composer is Jeroen Tel and he really put a lot of effort into the sound. All the music has a darkness to it and many of the sustained notes have this warbling effect to them that makes the song feel uneasy, which is exactly the feeling they wanted to convey in the game.

Worst Soundtrack


I had to go back to several games to revisit the music, and I kind of wish I had kept some of these music memories repressed in my brain. There are only two songs in Magmax covering both above ground and below ground, and both of them are more bleeps and bloops than melody. The underground theme is a little better than the above, but not by much. I’m glad I played this game right after Ikari Warriors because I was so happy to move on to something else that I didn’t care how Magmax sounded.

Operation Wolf

This game does not have much music at all since they developers opted to leave it out of the main gameplay entirely. What’s there is not all the bad, but the song at the end of each level has a weird sounding note at the end that sours the whole thing for me. When there isn’t much music in a game to begin with, you would want the music you do have to sound good.

Best Gameplay

Burai Fighter

I didn’t know what to expect going in, but I was pleasantly surprised with how Burai Fighter played. In this autoscrolling shoot-em-up you are permitted to aim in all eight directions and lock your fire in those directions easily. The power-up system gives you a lot of versatility while allowing you to ease the suffering of death by letting you keep your unequipped weapons at the same power level. The scrolling changes speed every now and then for a change of pace. The bosses are fun to fight, and there are even optional hidden areas for the brave and curious. All in all, it’s a great package.

Super Mario Bros. 2

The big draw to Super Mario Bros 2 is that you can play with four characters that either suit your play style or the level layout to make progressing easier. Toad is strong and can move quickly through easy levels. The princess floating capability makes tiny jumps a breeze. Luigi’s powerful jump can enable shortcuts that only he is capable of. And you can’t go wrong with Mario for solid all-around performance. There are also so many different things you can grab and throw which is fun, and the bosses are also great.

I think Toad is my favorite

Worst Gameplay

The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island

Escort missions in games tend to be universally panned for forcing you to take things slow to protect someone that can barely fend for themselves. Gilligan’s Island is essentially one giant escort mission and for that reason alone it has the worst gameplay of anything I played last year. I also hate falling down the wrong hole and taking several minutes to resume where I intended to go in the first place.

Top Gun

The biggest problem I have with Top Gun is how monotonous it gets. The majority of the game consists of blowing up other fighters or those darn homing missiles. I take back what I wrote; the biggest problem is the game is all the homing missiles. You have to deal with dozens of them and if you miss one you are dead, and then you only get three lives to clear the entire game. I think you can survive most the game simply by flying into a corner the entire time, and now I think it might have been more fun playing it that way. The game is just brutal overall. I will admit however that the landing sequence is much less terrible than its reputation would lead you to believe.

Best Moment

Journey to Silius

The ending of my winning run in Journey to Silius still sticks with me over a year later. I told the story in my blog post but I’ll recap it here. I had one death in the first four levels only to burn through everything I had left attempting the final level. On my second to last life I died and somehow also crossed the checkpoint into the boss fight. I ended up beating the final boss on my last life, down to the final sliver of health. I was pretty pumped up to beat the game after very nearly losing it all!

Ikari Warriors

Naturally, seeing the ending of the hardest game I’ve played was a huge moment for me. I remember starting the last play session at 4:00am and getting the victory sometime after 5:00am. I was so excited I was as quietly as possible hopping around and fist-pumping alone in the basement. My hands were shaking as I settled down enough to photograph the ending screen. I remember telling my wife of my victory later in the morning and her mild excitement as she clearly didn’t comprehend the weight lifted off of my shoulders. I am proud of what I achieved and it’s a feeling and a moment I won’t soon forget.

Worst Moment


This moment actually has nothing to do with the game whatsoever. I turned the game on and was jamming to the music when I got static shocked through my controller. This of course fried my controller dead. I play mostly with the Dogbone controller and those aren’t cheap to replace. I’m just glad my console was unaffected!


Sometimes I wonder if I will ever be able to complete the second loop of Gyruss. I never really tried until this project, and now I know I have some work to do. The biggest hurdle in the second loop are the basic boss shots that appear to home in on your ship. It really changes up certain boss fights, but I didn’t really register that thought on my longplay video of the game. I was doing great up until one of the bosses and then I burned through all of my remaining lives in a matter of seconds to the same boss attack. Clearly, that’s not my best moment!

Turns out this is a bad place to sit!

Best Surprise


This game was a lot of fun to play through, and it was a nice bonus to discover that you get a slightly different ending depending on which character you choose to play. That gave me enough reason to play the game again right away, which I gladly accepted!

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

It’s a minor moment in the game, but I was really impressed with the first boss. You fight a form of Dracula that advances toward you on one of two vertical levels. The thing is you don’t know where he will appear until he starts moving toward you, and even then you can barely see his shadow approaching. Ultimately this boss is not that difficult, but the graphical effect was so neat and unexpected that it really stuck with me.

Worst Surprise


Playing Gyruss here was the first time I knew of the enhanced second loop difficulty. I’m not bothered at all by swings in difficulty, and certainly I will get used to figuring out how best to avoid those new homing shots I eluded to a bit earlier. What did bother me is that you aren’t allowed to continue once you lose all your lives, and if you try playing again the game reverts back to first loop difficulty. So, I must clear the first loop every time I wish to attempt the second loop. It’s enough of a pain that I won’t be bothered to try very often, and that’s a shame.

Ikari Warriors

This game has plenty of nasty little surprises in the way, and typically the got the best of me until I learned the right way through. The worst one of all occurs at the end of the third level. Here you are faced with the first boss of the game, a zombie general sitting behind a desk flanked on either side by several soldiers. It’s a nasty section and one of the hardest parts in an already unbelievably difficult game. Once you clear out the room and defeat the general, nothing happens. What you have to do next is bomb around the front of the desk to reveal a hidden staircase to the next level. If you don’t find it, you get to deal with raining missiles. I didn’t know this the first time I got this far, and so I was stuck until I lost all my lives. What a letdown!

Don’t get stuck here like I did!

Best Familiar Game

Super Mario Bros. 2

Many consider it to be the black sheep of the NES Mario platformers, but I really like this game. I’ve gone back to it many, many times over the years, and I had just as much fun giving it another run. I like that you can play each level with a different character that switches up how you approach the stage, so you can have a different experience every time through.

Little Nemo: The Dream Master

I’ve spent many words already gushing over this game, so it was a clear choice here. It may be the least familiar of games I’ve already beaten, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to play.

Best New Game

The Guardian Legend

This is a game that I knew enough about that I figured I would really like playing through it. Indeed, The Guardian Legend became my favorite new game of the year. The exploration segments, the item collecting, the various subweapons, the shooter stages, and the huge bosses all combined to create a game that was right up my alley. I even spent a good amount of time playing the Secret Edition romhack, and I really need to go back to it and finish it up.

Burai Fighter

It turns out I am not the best at shoot-em-up games, though I generally enjoy playing them and I end up being impressed by the good ones. Burai Fighter tends to be overlooked online, so I was pleased to stumble into a really impressive game that is a lot of fun to play. The boss fights are particularly enjoyable, and the password system helped me ease my way through the game.

Finally get to shoot the dragon in the mouth

Worst Game

The Adventures of Gilligan’s Island

This was the only game all year that I gave an outright negative review, so even my general optimism about NES games couldn’t save this one. It ends up being a confusing maze game with a bunch of one-way paths. It’s just dull overall with the frustrating escort mission overlaid on it. Bleh.

The Simpsons: Bart vs. the Space Mutants

The first level in the game is by far the most interesting, creative portion of this game. It has its flaws too, but it’s fun to play through and figure out. The rest of the game however is tedious platforming with a poorly controlled character, and to beat the game you have to play these sections multiple times just to make incremental progress on the later stages. It’s too bad the game couldn’t carry its momentum from the start through the rest of the game.

Ignored But Not Forgotten

In closing, here are some final words on the games I played in 2016 that didn’t get mentioned in any of the categories above.

The Adventures of Rad Gravity

It’s a quirky adventure with some really interesting ideas, but it’s just a little too wonky to really set itself apart in any meaningful way.

Balloon Fight

I think this is my favorite black box title. The controls are different and once you get good at it you can maneuver exactly where you want to go. It’s fun though it gets a little long in the tooth after awhile.

It does take practice to maneuver around everything


It’s kind of a bland tank shooter, but a reasonably fun romp anyway due to the very generous checkpoints and infinite continues.

The Immortal

I normally don’t like these kinds of games, but The Immortal has changed my thinking just a bit about similar games I’ll be playing someday. A few of the puzzles were too obtuse which marred my experience somewhat.

Kid Icarus

This is a really fun game! I just couldn’t find a good place to work it into this list. Maybe that’s because I didn’t like having to play through it twice to get the best ending. I think one playthrough was just right.

R.B.I. Baseball

It may be my favorite baseball video game, but at the end of the day it’s just one sports title in a vast sea of them. Sorry sports fans!

T&C Surf Designs: Wood and Water Rage

It ended up being more fun that I remembered, but there’s not much substance to the game and it wears out its welcome quickly.

All that surfing…


This is an overlooked Capcom title that got completely overshadowed on this list in every way by Little Nemo. It is worth a look!

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