Take on the NES Library

An 8-bit Extravaganza!



2019 Year In Review

Welcome to the 2019 Year In Review!

I am pleased to report that, unlike last year, I remembered to do this Year in Review on time!  I have just completed the process of going through all the games and categories, trying to jog my brain for any memories or opinions over a whole year’s worth of gaming.  It is a labor of love, that’s for sure, as I find it hard to get started and even harder to flesh out my final choices.  I’m starting to notice it is getting harder to remember events from last year, mostly because my thoughts are starting to bleed back into prior years.  I also know things about way more NES games than I ever have before.  In spite of all that, I feel good about my choices and I hope that you will enjoy reading through them.

There were some things that both made gaming easier and harder in 2019.  The biggest life impact is that my wife and I welcomed a new baby boy into our family back in August.  For the first month or two, that meant lots of overnight feedings and restless nights.  Definitely a great thing, but also very exhausting.  Within a few days of his birth, my daughter started half-day preschool.  We had been pretty lax about her sleep schedule, but we took the opportunity to set up a bedtime routine.  Consistency has really helped all of us to better adapt to all the life changes going on around us.  Outside of family, 2019 was one of the most challenging years in my job.  I have had to work extra hours from time to time.  This started a little bit in 2018, but I was required to travel periodically for work throughout 2019.  Certainly, a baby becomes a time priority and that took away from NES time, but a scheduled bedtime for my older child and improving sleep schedule for my newborn has helped offset that and given me enough time to play.  Traveling for work actually helped since I was able to take my laptop and practice games on emulator.  Any extra downtime in the hotel became game time.  I still do split time between NES and Switch gaming since Switch is more convenient for commuting and gaming in bed.  I have not yet been able to take advantage of Nintendo Switch Online for the best of both worlds, but maybe soon.

In 2019, I completed 33 NES games, starting with Smash T.V at #111 and ending with Metal Gear at #142.  This year in review will cover those games and all in between.  I start with a lengthy list of complementary categories and then pick usually two to three games for each one with a brief explanation of each choice.  The only format change from last year is that I came up with a clever way of including games that don’t fit any of the main categories.  Let’s get to it!

The 2018 Take On The NES Library Year In Review

Hardest Game

To The Earth:

In 2019, I rated two games 10/10 in difficulty.  Comparing the two, I went with To The Earth as the hardest game of the year.  This is a Zapper target shooting game set in space with fast enemy movements and predictable patterns.  The game has an evenly paced difficulty curve until the end of Stage 3 when the challenge skyrockets.  (Pun intended.)  The final stage is one of the most difficult single levels I’ve ever played, requiring perfect knowledge and almost perfect Zapper alignment and timing.  I am happy to have this one done while my eyes are still decent.

These fast missiles still haunt me.

High Speed:

Hot on the heels in difficulty is High Speed.  This one feels vastly different from To The Earth’s difficulty yet it is so challenging in its own way.  High Speed relies on having that special run where shots are constantly made, extra balls are won, and mini games are cleared.  Those mini-games are the determining factor.  Car races are easy enough, but pachinko requires some very specific inputs and a healthy dose of luck.  You can spin your wheels for a long time playing those games over and over, only for a ball to go the wrong way down a drain pushing you into an early exit.  Pinball was never my strong suit and High Speed forced me into improving my game.

Boulder Dash:

I didn’t find this to be quite as difficult as the above, but this game seems to trip up a lot of people and I thought it was worth mentioning.  At the onset, there are six worlds of four levels each.  It begins simply; just collect enough gems to exit through the door.  New things are introduced gradually.  Clearing four levels at a time can be a chore, but soon enough all levels are done.  From here things really get tough during the second, third, and fourth loops.  The requirements are stricter and layouts are tweaked.  By the end you have to puzzle your way through very precise, lengthy solutions, all while beating sets of four stages before you run out of lives.

Easiest Game


Any time you have a non-game, that immediately is the default for easiest game.  Videomation is a drawing and animation tool for just messing around with.  Still, there is quite a lot you can do with it with stamps, animation paths, letters, shape tools, and a pretty neat arrow cursor.  It seems pretty advanced by NES standards as well.  Even I, a non-artist, was able to draw something with it and it turned out okay.

Magic Johnson’s Fast Break:

As far as actual games go, this one was the next easiest game from 2019.  It was the only 2/10 game in difficulty rank for the year, and that was pretty much because I won a game on the hardest difficulty on my first try.  My default gameplay in basketball is to shoot threes, so I picked the best player for it and figured out that shooting from the top of the key was my best bet to sink one.  I won handily after digging out from an early deficit.

This was the “Magic” spot.

Shortest Game

Marble Madness:

This is the quintessential pick-up-and-play title on the NES.  If you only have a few minutes to spare, you can do no wrong with a quick attempt at Marble Madness.  The game’s six stages are all short, and since it is a race against the timer you are either going to win quickly or fail quickly.  Full playthroughs of the game only last 3-4 minutes.  I wanted to go for a deathless run but my best after an hour of attempts was a two-death run.


This is a bit of a cop-out answer, but it makes perfect sense in this category.  This game has no goal whatsoever.  If you just draw a circle on the screen or something else simple, that’s enough to say you drew something.  My doodling took longer than Marble Madness at least, since I felt like I needed to put in a tiny bit of effort.

Longest Game

Genghis Khan:

Koei games are likely to dominate this category when they are played.  These can be very long, drawn out campaigns even when you know what to do.  The learning curve is very steep for someone like me as well.  Once I got going, I ran into either some bad luck or poor planning and ended up having to reconquer several territories, wasting even more time.  Menuing became a real chore at the end.  I played this a lot just after my son was born, which meant I could only play in 15 minute bursts here and there while taking care of my baby.  It may not have been the longest game played in pure hours, but it sure felt like the longest one.

So. Much. Menuing.

Dragon Warrior III:

This is probably the true longest game of the year.  I clocked in at over 35 hours with much better timekeeping than any other game I played this year.  I estimate about 30 hours at most for Genghis Khan.  I spent the exact same number of days playing both.  Dragon Warrior III was much more fun to play and therefore felt like a shorter game.

Bases Loaded II: Second Season:

I would be remiss without mentioning the latest installment in the Bases Loaded series.  Normally this would be the longest game of the year, but I got a couple of RPGs come up that took just a bit longer.  The first Bases Loaded was roughly a 40-hour affair while the second game was much swifter at a 25-30 hour estimate.  Still, it was an 84-game season ending in a 79-5 record, and that is going to take a long time no matter how quickly the games are played.

Oldest Game

Wild Gunman:

Ah, a good old Black Box game.  Wild Gunman was one of the NES launch titles releasing in October 1985, making it the earliest NES release I played in 2019.  The arcade version was a full decade earlier, releasing in 1974.  This is easily the oldest game I’ve played in a long time.

Tag Team Wrestling:

Last year I played one NES game from 1985 and one game from 1986.  Tag Team Wrestling released in October 1986.  Release dates of NES games are notoriously hard to track down, usually only found to the month, which in and of itself may not be completely accurate.  The trio of Chubby Cherub, M.U.S.C.L.E, and Ninja Kid all released at the end of October 1986, while Tag Team Wrestling has no specific date I could find within the month.  That leads me to believe that Tag Team Wrestling was the first third-party NES release.  Either way, it was still the second earliest game I played in the year.

It sure looks like an early game.

Genghis Khan:

This game came out in 1990, but the real Genghis Khan lived from 1162-1227.  That’s pretty old if you ask me.

Newest Game

Dragon Warrior III:

There were no 1993 or 1994 releases played in this review period.  You have to go down to March 1992 to get the first hit in Dragon Warrior III.  It was the only 1992 release I played too.  Making this even weirder is that Dragon Quest III in Japan came out way back in 1988.  It is such a bizarre selection for Newest Game, but that’s how it goes.

Space Shuttle Project:

Here we have the true Newest Game.  Space technology sure feels new and futuristic, right?  Well, maybe not now.  Space Shuttle Project released in November 1991.  I have to imagine this will be the only 1991 release I’ll play to be declared Newest Game.  However, we can only look so far to the future, and stranger things are bound to happen.

Best Character

Kabuki Quantum Fighter:

Now that we are into the more subjective categories, this one was an easy choice to get started.  This game follows the story of soldier Scott O’Connor who is input digitally into the computer world taking on a completely different form than an ordinary soldier.  Obviously, his hair attack is unique for its time and is the game’s defining feature.  There is also a lot of grabbing, climbing, and hook swinging, and it all feels great.  He is the best character is terms of both aesthetic and moveset.


Mappy as a character is in kind of a weird place.  He is not such a recognizable character, and trying to control him in-game feels limited.  That works fine in the contest of the classic Mappy arcade game, but not so much in Mappy-Land where the developers tried to introduce moving obstacles and platforms.  In fact, it would be fair for Mappy to be upstaged completely by his enemies.  But I don’t care about any of that.  Mappy is cute and is a much more interesting character than just anyone from a game I played last year.

Ain’t he cute?

Ice Hockey:

I have to pick this game entirely for the fat skater.  The normal one is kind of boring, and the skinny one looks good but wasn’t as effective a player.  The heavy one to me is the iconic character from this NES game and he was the best scorer, knocking around everyone in his path.

Worst Character

Bad Street Brawler:

This game is kind of a mess, and in part it has to do with the limited nature of Duke Davis.  He can only walk left and right with limited, clunky jumping, and for whatever reason he is forced into using specific attacks per level.  A few of these attacks are really good and you wish you could use them in all levels, but it just cannot be.  His sense of style is very early ‘90s, but it’s just too gaudy for my tastes.  Put it all together and it’s pretty clear what the worst character of the year is.

Wall Street Kid:

For as poor a character as Duke Davis is, the Wall Street Kid is just as boring.  He is completely driven by greed and just goes with the flow of whoever is around him.  He does the same things day in and day out.  He and his girlfriend Priscilla have no personality whatsoever.  Whatever.  I guess I hope he decides to do things for the betterment of mankind with his vast fortune.

Best Ending

Dragon Warrior III:

If you are going to spend a long time playing one game, you really hope the ending you get for all your work delivers.  This game features an interactive ending, which are often the best kind.  You get to make your escape, make you way back to the home castle, and be applauded by everyone you talk you.  The ending completely clears up who you are before heading to some nicely done end credits where you take one final tour of landmarks of your journey.  Good stuff.

I like how it’s called Dragon Quest III here.

Dirty Harry:

This game has quite the surprise ending, for as rough as the game is up to that point.  The final end screen where you go head to head against Anaconda is pretty basic on its own.  You get treated by a very lengthy audio clip of Dirty Harry giving his well-known speech from the movie.  There hadn’t been any sampled voices in the game, but they put a really long one in at the end completely out of nowhere.  It’s totally unexpected and pretty cool.


The ending to this game is decent enough, but what really sets this game apart is the bonus ending.  To see it, you need to leave your NES on for almost an hour after getting the normal ending.  You’ll see a procession of tanks and soldiers proceed down the screen, followed by some Japanese text that clearly wasn’t known about during transition to the NES.

Worst Ending


This year didn’t really have endings that were truly bad.  Amagon’s ending is fairly basic but it’s not all that bad.  What puts it in this category is the awful ending music.  The rest of the game has pretty decent tunes, so to be rewarded with something so grating at the end is pretty weird and out of place.

Metal Gear:

Again, this is not a bad ending; it’s actually a pretty good one.  What stands out to me about this one is how you don’t really get the time to enjoy it.  I take pictures of the end screens of games, but the one I wanted at the end of the ending only stays visible long enough to draw the text before fading out back to the title screen.  I really don’t understand why there isn’t any kind of delay there.  Perhaps I should have seen this coming, as the title screen barely stays visible before heading to the attract mode.

Videomation, Xenophobe, Wild Gunman:

This category would not be complete without mentioning the games that had no ending.  All of these are a little different.  Videomation isn’t even a game so of course it ends when you decide it ends.  Xenophobe has a level ending but that doesn’t change upon beating the final level aside from bonuses awarded.  Wild Gunman has the closest thing to an ending with the “Master” text after beating Game C.  The other two modes have no ending at all and I had to settle with the Game Over screen on those.

Best Box Art

Werewolf: The Last Warrior:

I called this one back in the review for this game and it held up over the rest of the year.  I love the visual of the werewolf literally ripping out of an NES cart where you can see the circuit board and chips inside.  I like his giant claws and I dig the yellow and red color scheme.  It is a pretty simple cover really, but I like every aspect of it.

Metal Gear:

There is something about this cover that is just striking to me.  The art of Solid Snake is incredibly detailed, complete with his full gear and items along his belt.  The split white and black sections are distinct and set the title apart while giving full height of the box to Solid Snake.  There’s even a glimpse of Metal Gear itself, which you don’t fully grasp until you get far enough into the game.  Very solid box art.

Street Cop:

This is kind of an unassuming game and graphically in game is pretty dopey looking.  Despite that, the cover grabbed me in two ways.  There is something so goofy about a cop flying upward on top of a giant floating badge, I love it.  I also appreciate the subtle fingerprint graphics along the edges of the art.

Worst Box Art

Casino Kid:

There weren’t many bad covers this year, at least not any I found to make fun of.  Casino Kid’s box isn’t so much bad as it is dull and lifeless.  The playing cards are fine, but they are flanked by some dumb looking dollar signs and text and a boring background.  Unless you already like card games, this will not attract your attention.


I decided to mention this cover because it is so disparate between the look of the cover and the actual game.  The alien on the cover is vicious looking and highly detailed, while the aliens in game aren’t really scary aside from their relative size to the player and respawning capability.  The rest of the box is ordinary anyway.

Best Graphics

Tiny Toon Adventures:

The best looking NES games make you forget you are playing an NES game.  Tiny Toon Adventures graphically looks and feels a little bit like Super Mario Bros. 3, which is a fine pedigree in itself.  Konami did a very good job adapting the characters to sprites as all of them are highly detailed with great animation and coloring.  

Tecmo World Wrestling:

I picked this game mostly because it surprised me on how good it looked.  The animations during super moves are very well done and set this game apart from the other wrestling games.  Normal moves and animations work well too.  I also like the font used.

The animation is top-notch.

Worst Graphics

Dirty Harry:

True to form, this is a dirty looking game.  This game is full of rundown buildings that I guess fit the mood of this game, I just don’t think it looks very good.  The worst offender graphically is the mountain climbing section in the last stage.  It’s a muddy looking background with random looking footholds where you can’t tell what is safe to stand on.

Tag Team Wrestling:

It is perhaps a little unfair to go after one of the earliest third-party NES games, but this one didn’t really have much character.  The players and opponents are really dull looking with almost non-existent animation.  I’m not sure what the object you pick up outside the ring is supposed to resemble.  Good thing looks eventually got better once the NES picked up steam.

Best Soundtrack


The original MacVenture games do not have any music during gameplay.  The soundtrack was added specifically to the NES version and it became one of the defining features of the port.  It is a moody, atmospheric soundtrack with good tunes pretty much all across the board.  The whiny low-on-torch music is really bad, encouraging you to put up with the torch system just to get it to go back to the good stuff.

You can really feel the heat!

Tecmo World Wrestling:

I had to put this one on the list solely for the title screen music.  It is so good!  It is a real shame that it only exists on the title screen because the screen typically isn’t left up long enough for the song to kick in.  The rest of the music is no slouch either.  I found it helped put me in the mood to grind out many wrestling matches.

Magic Johnson’s Fast Break:

This game is more or less a throwaway title in terms of gameplay, but luckily the music was composed by Tim Follin, who will always get a shoutout from me whenever his music comes up.  The title screen and menu music has some real nice depth to it.

Worst Soundtrack

Dirty Harry:

The music in this game suffers in a couple of ways.  The melodies themselves are kind of “bleep bloop” fare from what I remember, so already that is poor.  The other thing is that the volume is incredibly low and it is very hard to hear the baselines, which is where a lot of the music sits for this game.  I didn’t really hear that much of it when playing on TV.  It wasn’t until I watched back my recording that I got to hear a lot of what I was missing.  Alas, it’s not enough to save this one.


I am probably being unfair to Xenophobe here.  The title screen jingle, while brief, is quite good.  What really puts this one down is that there is hardly any music during gameplay.  Most of what you hear is during level clearing, and in this case there are a couple of different tunes that are pretty much the same with slight differences.  I only picked up on that when listening to the music later on.  For a game having little music, variety would have helped.  Late Sunsoft NES games were a master class in NES music, so it is disappointing that this title has so little to offer.

Best Gameplay

Kabuki Quantum Fighter:

This is such a fun game and one that I have played and gone back to many times over the years.  The climbing and swinging around holds a lot of the appeal to me in the game.  There are plenty of places to get a grasp of the hooking mechanic with a mostly gentle learning curve.  The bosses are varied and fun to fight, and you acquire more special weapons the longer you play.

Get into the swing of things.

Smash T.V.:

This is a pretty simple game that I think they did a lot with.  Now the gameplay is kind of samey, and some of the screens really drag on a long time.  These are valid criticisms.  What I like is that there is a good variety of enemies and weapons just about all the time.  The randomness means that you approach challenges differently depending on what you happen to have at the time.  Best of all is that even though there are tons of things moving all that time, there isn’t slowdown and virtually no noticeable flicker.

Worst Gameplay

Tag Team Wrestling:

This game suffers both from its control scheme and its length.  To do moves, you initiate a grapple which gives you an exclusive timer where you tap A to scroll through a list of moves to pick the one you want with B.  It is kind of a clever way to incorporate so many moves, but in practice it becomes pre-planned button mashing, and you have to do it so, so much.  That may be acceptable in a shorter game, but you need to win 35 matches to beat the game, plus replays if you lose once along the way.  It’s such a drag.


This should probably be expected here in this category.  Logically it makes sense.  It isn’t a game; therefore, it has no gameplay.  Bad gameplay should always trump no gameplay, so that means I had to put Videomation here.  It’s still a good tool as far as the NES is concerned though.

Best Controls

Smash T.V.:

Dual stick shooters like Smash T.V. do not play well with the limited inputs on the NES controller, and trying to play this game becomes more frustrating than fun.  The developers had the idea to incorporate a two-controller scheme for a single player where one D-pad moves your character and the other D-pad lets you shoot in any direction.  This is the ideal way to play Smash T.V. by far.  This game even supports the Four Score so that you can play two-player simultaneous each with the two-controller setup.

Dual stick is perfect for when you’re surrounded.


It might seem a little weird to put this point-and-click style adventure in the category of best controls, but it fits.  The controls are so intuitive and work exactly like you would hope they do.  Your pointer shifts seamlessly from the free pointing in the main window to locking down to checkboxes in the side menus, attaching to the one in closest proximity.  It frees you up to focus on puzzle solving without getting bogged down in the details.

Worst Controls

Bad Street Brawler:

Here’s where I can beat down on the Power Glove.  I don’t care that it is iconic and memorable, the controls are so poor that it barely works.  I tried everything, multiple times, and sometimes it works okay and sometimes you can do nothing with it.  If I could get it to work optimally all the time, I’d probably have a shot at beating the game with it, but otherwise I couldn’t stand trying anymore after a few weeks of trial and error.  Using the normal controller is much better, but not great either with the weird jumping and hitboxes with the various attacks.

Bases Loaded II: Second Season:

This one is a bit of a stretch.  The game does control pretty well.  My main gripe, still, is that the baserunning controls are not good.  It is just so ingrained in me to use B toward where you want to go forward and A toward where you want to go back.  Many NES baseball games do this, so it is still odd to have one that doesn’t.  To my credit, I did finally get used to it in this game.

Street Cop:

I don’t mean to be so negative on games with seldom used peripherals, honest.  I don’t think most games from last year had bad controls.  Therefore, ones like this stand out.  It is a little rough to make progress in this game as it is just as much a thought exercise as a physical one.  This is the clumsiest cop ever.  At least this game has responsive controls, and I enjoyed getting used to something very different from the normal.

More like Feet Cop if you ask me.

Best Playthrough

Shooting Range:

This still feels like an odd choice for me at the top of this category, but when I went back over everything, this one took the top spot.  I wanted the Gold Medal for scoring at least 40,000 points, and unless you get a perfect bonus game, this is hardly obtainable.  I fell well short several times.  When I did finally get the perfect bonus, I ended up scoring over 50,000 points.  That gulf between best score and second best score made this my best playthrough.

Kabuki Quantum Fighter:

This is a game I am very familiar with playing, so it would have been hard for me to do badly at this game.  If I did, I would have replayed anyway.  I spent some time with the game several years back and got very consistent at no-death runs.  I accomplished that here on my first attempt.  I rate this at about medium difficulty, so a deathless run is moderately impressive.

Marble Madness:

I went into playing this game with the mindset of a deathless run.  Again, it’s a game I know well, plus it is very short which lends itself to multiple tries in one sitting.  I gave myself an hour of time for the best run I could get, and I came away with a run where I died twice.  A no-death playthrough of Marble Madness is quite an accomplishment, so I feel really good about what I achieved.  Maybe someday I will put in the time to go deathless.

Worst Playthrough

Tecmo World Wrestling:

I am not a fan of wrestling games, but I can give this one a lot of praise for its music and graphics.  However, beating this game was painful, physically for sure.  There was so much hyper button mashing taking place that I got fatigued.  Making things more challenging is that losses in this game set you back to the previous wrestler on the ladder, and also the strength training between levels features even more button mashing.  I thought this game got hard at the end and it was made worse with the progression setbacks and muscle fatigue.  I scratched and clawed my way to victory, but it wasn’t pretty at all.

Genghis Khan:

I don’t feel too bad about struggling in this game, as it is far away from my wheelhouse.  There were two things that happened in my long playthrough that made it one of my worst.  First off, sometime in the midgame I lost several territories due to revolts from the leader I put in place.  By then, the bulk of my army was heading toward the other side of the map, so it took me several hours to reverse course to reclaim my losses.  The solution I came up with was to put all distant territories under direct control.  This led to my second issue of all the excess menuing needed as each territory you control requires you to make a turn every month in game time.  Conquering the last few territories took a long time.  It was ugly, but effective.

Best Moment

Casino Kid:

While you benefit from skill in both blackjack and poker, you do need luck to stand a chance.  In the final poker match of the game, I was given the best possible luck you can get.  Poker is five card draw, but for one hand I was dealt a royal flush, straight up.  You can’t do better than that, and I was able to take advantage by betting the max bet and having it called by my opponent.  It was such a cool moment and I doubt will ever happen again.

I still don’t believe this happened.

High Speed:

This game offered a steep challenge, particularly in the pachinko mini-games.  Under a time limit, you fire balls upward from a cannon at the bottom trying to get them to fall into cups strewn along the playfield.  Later rounds put some of these cups in super difficult places to reach, requiring either perfect frame precision or fortuitous collisions with other shots.  My winning run was full of great moments on both the pinball side and the pachinko side, but what got me mega hyped was hitting the final cup on a pachinko board on my very last ball just as time expired.  I had it happen to me twice, and those were some of the most relief-filled moments I’ve had in the entire project.

Worst Moment

Tag Team Wrestling:

This game is such a slog.  Since you have to play so many matches, I was able to develop a good quick winning strategy.  Throw your opponent outside the ring, get him trapped in the corner, and time your moves so that you can get back in the ring in time before the 20 count that disqualifies your opponent.  Finding my rhythm was the key to success, but I seemed to lose it at the most inopportune time.  In one run, on the final match, I got disqualified on the outside by fractions of a second, which triggered a mild controller toss and a power down of my NES.

Bases Loaded II: Second Season:

The full story of this is pretty good I think, so you’ll have to read the review if you want to see the details.  In the first Bases Loaded, I won my final 79 games in a row after discovering the super pitches.  In this game, I almost pulled off a similar streak after a slow start, suffering a single loss near the end of the season that was entirely preventable.  It is minor in the grand scheme of things, but at the time it was immensely annoying and depressing.

I’d rather win every game like this.

Kabuki Quantum Fighter:

Everything about my playthrough was solid, but I completely forgot about one thing at the very end.  Kabuki Quantum Fighter has a sound test after the credits, but I cut my video recording off right before I touched a button the started up the sound test.  Oops!  I was annoyed for missing that in my video for sure.  Moreover, that screen teases a sequel to the game that never happened, which in itself can be perceived as a bad moment.

Best Surprise

Street Cop:

Power Pad games are often overlooked due to the hardware requirements required for play.  This worked out to my advantage.  I put together a decent run of the game for video, then I checked out speedrun.com and found out that would be the fastest time submitted.  Granted, there was only one other time submitted, but I have claimed it as a world record run!  I imagine there are faster playthroughs out there, so I may have to defend it someday, but for now I am once again a world record holder!  (I lost the one I had claimed for AD&D: Heroes of the Lance … by quite a lot.)

Space Shuttle Project:

This game was such a joy to discover.  It is hard to know what kind of game this is only looking at the cart.  What I discovered was that it is a mini-game compilation where you prepare a shuttle, launch it, and perform basic space missions.  The game lost its shine for being too drawn out and repetitive, but the first few passes were so unexpected and fun.  I hope I find more surprises like this in the NES library.

Worst Surprise

Bad Street Brawler:

More bad mouthing the Power Glove!  Knowing the history, I should not have expected much.  The Power Glove was a little bit rushed to market with Bad Street Brawler sort of shoehorned in as part of the Power Glove Gaming Series.  The only other title bearing that moniker is Super Glove Ball launching a year later, which I hope means it is a better Power Glove experience.  That said, I came in with the expectation that the Power Glove should work fairly well with Bad Street Brawler and I came away angry and confused.  History may rewrite itself once I play Super Glove Ball but suffice it to say I have higher expectations for it.

How would I do this with the Power Glove?

Dirty Harry:

The first stage of Dirty Harry is a very complicated building maze.  Going down alleyways sort of turns you 90 degrees so that the streets and alleyways are connected in 3D space.  Understanding that helped make a little sense out of the structure, but it is still tricky to navigate without a map.  I got pretty far into the stage and started exploring buildings in a remote corner of the streets looking for surprise.  In the deepest room of the deepest building in the deepest street is what is called the Ha Ha Ha room.  It is a room with no exit, effectively a soft lock, and you are forced to reset and try again.  It is pure evil in video game form.

Metal Gear:

There were multiple mini-surprises here, aspects of the game that detracted from my experience.  The card key system forces you to equip the exact key you need to open a door, and you don’t know what key works unless you memorize it or choose the proper one randomly.  Some building rooms form giant holes once you step within range, leaving you with virtually no time to back up and escape death.  Navigating the maze rooms are a requirement to beat the game, but you both have to recognize what they are and figure out how to get through them with no in-game knowledge given on how to proceed.

Best WWF Game

WWF Wrestlemania Challenge:

So here is where I include all of the games that haven’t already been mentioned!  WWF Wrestlemania Challenge was one of three wrestling games on this list and it sits firmly in the middle.  It’s not a good or memorable as Tecmo World Wrestling yet was infinitely better than Tag Team Wrestling.  It wasn’t that memorable for me really, simply a decent game that wasn’t too hard to clear.  And clearly it was the best wrestling game bearing the WWF license.

Best Destruction


This is a pretty good port of the arcade game.  There’s so much shooting and plenty of things to shoot.  I would say its defining feature, aside from the gameplay perspective, is that the backgrounds are destroyable.  They come crumbling down after much firepower, opening up clear space so that enemies can’t hide from you.  Very satisfying.

Sometimes you can blow up even bigger things.

Best Familiar Game

Kabuki Quantum Fighter:

This was an easy pick for me.  Kabuki Quantum Fighter is one of those games I will go back to if I have a little bit of free time to kill.  I always have a good time breezing through it with its strong controls and great graphics and music.

Dragon Warrior III:

I have sort of a love/hate relationship with this game, for technical reasons.  I owned this game as a teenager and tried to play it several times, only for my dirty NES console to get bumped, resetting the game and destroying my save.  I gave up on it for a long time before finally beating it through emulation in my 20’s.  This game absolutely holds up as one of the best NES RPG’s, and though it took a long time to clear, the mix of familiar and somewhat unfamiliar on this second-ever playthrough kept me going.

Best New Game

Metal Gear:

For all of the warts and issues this game has, I still think it was one of the best NES games I played last year.  The graphics and music are pretty good.  This game had a dungeon crawl feel for me throughout the first half of the game, and I found it exciting to get just a little bit further through the buildings and find new stuff.  There are some cool boss battles here and plenty of weapons to fight them with.

Man vs. Tank


This was one of those games that passed me by when I was younger, partly by chance and partly by choice.  I am trying to be open minded about NES games now and I was intrigued by trying to figure out this game.  I came away mostly impressed at the quality of the game with its near-perfect controls and music, and also slightly annoyed from menuing through old items and struggling with puzzle solutions.

Space Shuttle Project:

I only mention this game here because it was such a pleasant surprise to see what this game was and that it was of good quality to boot.  I remember smiling big my first time through a mission, slightly frowning more and more the longer it took to get to the end of everything.  This game suffers from repetitiveness big time, but the first few times playing were quite enjoyable.

Worst Game

Dirty Harry:

This game was a real mess.  The controls are clunky, the graphics are muddy and murky, the music is way too low, and the navigation of the first stage alone is maddening.  The whole game could have been the first level and it would have been plenty tough with just that.  The game gets a little better later on, but still not great.  The final level’s mountain sequence is really rough, and sometimes you get stuck backtracking through it if you make a wrong move past there.  Not so much fun at all.  I will say, the ending to this game is pretty special considering what you have to put up with to see it.  It’s a shame that most players won’t see it.


We are capping off this year’s review with, you guessed it, the non-game Videomation.  I mean, what else could it be?  Thanks very much for reading, we’ll do this again next year!

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