As we count the weeks, days, and three months or so leading up to the launch of the Nintendo Switch, we at SnapThirty are going to take a stroll down memory lane and revisit each of Nintendo’s legendary system (except for The System That Shall Not Be Named). Starting off with the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), we reminisce on our fond memories and favourite games.
Castlevania is best described as a video game that is far greater than the sum of its parts, and the debut title on the NES ranks comfortably with the likes of Mega Man, Contra, and Metroid as one of the leaders of 2D action platforming. Castlevania introduced a methodological combat mechanic situated in a ingeniously designed action platformer. Perhaps among the earliest horror video games, the original Castlevania had you take control of a tough as a tank Vampire Hunter by the name of Simon Belmont. Castlevania had all the right ingredients: unique personality and mechanics, sound level design, brutal and satisfying boss battles, distinguished aesthetics, and above all an unforgettable soundtrack that continues to be hummed 30 years later.
We’ve seen the franchise go through so many changes over the past three decades, but the perfect mix of visuals, gameplay, and audio was firmly established with the first NES outing. Even after Alucard’s epic in Symphony of the Night, Soma Cruz’s memorable portable adventures on the Game Boy Advance and DS, and recently Gabriel Belmont’s odyssey in the Lords of Shadow reboot, the original Castlevania still remains just as playable, iconic, and inspirational. When you talk about timeless classics from the 80s that went on to forge an immense legacy, Castlevania deserves to be in the same conversation as Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.
River City Ransom
Unfortunately, as a child, I never had the pleasure of owning a Nintendo Entertainment System. My household didn’t discover video games until the GameBoy came around and Pokemon swept the world, so as you can imagine the NES was mostly non-existent during my early childhood. Oh, also, I’m forgetting one big thing…I was born in 1994 so the NES was, arguably, old news by that point in time. I’m a sucker for the classics though, and I fit into a specific kind of niche that compels me to digest media based on urban combat. One of the very first games I played was Double Dragon so I can imagine that my proclivity for games of its type is so apparent thanks to my tim experiencing it.
Eventually, as we all do, I came to discover programs titled “Emulators”, I’m sure you heard of it, and the first thing I did was search for games that matched a description similar to that of Double Dragon. I eventually came across a somewhat well-known title called River City Ransom, released originally in Japan as Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari. River City Ransom took players on a not-so-mystical journey through the tough streets of downtown Toky-er, ugh, I mean River City. You play as a juvenile delinquent named Alex whose girlfriend Cyndi has been kidnapped by rival gang boss Slick. The goal of the game is to beat down as many punks as you can in an attempt to save her life. Simple.
While the game wasn’t ground breaking, and its controls hard to master, it had a visual aesthetic that caught not only my eye but my imagination. As a fan of Japanese juvenile culture from the 60s, 70s, and leading into the 80s, it was hard to catch a glimpse of this game and totally ignore it. I replayed River City Ransom time and time again, even going as far as to purchase it’s impressive remake River City: Tokyo Rumble for the Nintendo 3DS. Thinking about it, I seem to replay a version of River City Ransom once every few years, be it the original or any number of remakes. I feel as though, judging by this, I will be playing it until the day I die, and if that is the case, well…I’d have lived the good life.
Super Mario Bros. 2
By the time I was old enough to handle a controller, the NES had been out for well over a decade. Despite this, the NES was the first console I played. I have fond memories of begging my parents to set up the console in the garage, so as to play Super Mario Bros. at the ripe old age of 4. Even though I had this initial glimpse into the gaming world, it wasn’t until much later that I fully enjoyed the NES (due, in part, to my younger brother seeing if the console could float… It could not). I was roughly ten when I once again played the NES, thanks to my uncle handing me down a console and collection of games.
At that point I had played many of the games due to re-releases on other, newer consoles. One game, however, that I did not experience was Super Mario Bros. 2. I remembered playing the original (and at that point Super Mario 64) but I had not played the sequel. The second I turned the game on I was met with a flurry of confusion, happiness, and one other thing. Pure. Unadulterated. Enjoyment. The bright colours and smooth gameplay had me hooked as it was so different from the previous game. However, nothing could beat the soundtrack. I still find internally (and externally) humming the tune from the first level (you know the one, Do Do Da Doo Do Do Da Doodoo da Dooo). Also in the game pile was a cartridge with a bright, golden sticker, adorned with an ornamental shield and a bold red title reading one thing: ZELDA.
As with Super Mario Bros. before it, I had played many games from The Legend Of Zelda franchise that had been released after the NES. The original, however, had apparently evaded me as I was unaware of the games existence. So, being the unruly youth that I was, I slapped the game in and prepared for an adventure. After a quick title scroll about some dude named Ganon and putting in my name ‘KILLA’ (again, unruly youth) I was thrust into the world and after getting my sword, I was off on my adventure. I remember the games difficulty being unforgiving in an almost endearing way, which saw me trying harder to beat a game than I had ever before. This genuine struggle rewarded me with a kind of catharsis that would resonate throughout my gaming life, as the metric to which I measure all struggle/reward situations.
In the days before I called a home console my own, otherwise known as the Dark Ages, one particularly fun activity I partook in was visiting my cousins’ place…because they had a NES. As for how many games they owned, I have no idea, not through a lack of interest mind you, but for the simple fact that I only ever played one: Duck Hunt.
Everybody remembers Duck Hunt, even if you’ve never played it. There are ducks and you have to hunt them, because video games…and years of hunting tradition, although I’m not entirely sure what they thought the crossover would be between gamers and hunters. But it was the early days of gaming, so I’ll give Nintendo a pass on that one. Regardless, the most unique element of Duck Hunt was the fact that the controller was not your standard fare, no siree, it was a gun. A light shooting gun that let you aim and fire on all those quacking pixels that mocked you so as they flew past the simple screen. It was just so cool. You were actually doing what the character was doing, the way they were doing it. Weapon in hand, target on screen, trusty (occasionally mocking) dog by your side. A uniquely immersive experience for a young gamer to have. At least, until you got mad at missing all the time and put the gun right up to the sensor. Bet you weren’t expecting 100% accuracy were you, you duck jerks?
The Legend of Zelda
The NES was admittedly before my time. My first console was the Super Nintendo and I really do have quite a lot of memories of that console. That said I was able to play the NES when I was younger as my uncle had the device and a small handful of games for it. I remember vividly trying to play Duck Hunt with the light gun and being increasingly frustrated each time that dastardly dog would laugh in my face
The game that really stood out to me of the batch that my uncle had however was the original The Legend of Zelda game. It was probably the first time I played a game that I begun to see just how big a world could be inside a video game. I remember walking to the edge of the screen and watch it expand revealing the next part of the map and being in a state of awe at the thought that there was more to this world. It was a sense of discovery that really affected me and showed me very early on that games are capable of a lot more than what I had thought possible. It is crazy to think that I had this moment so early on in my life and on the NES of all consoles but such was the wonder of The Legend of Zelda.
Coming into writing this piece I didn’t think I’d have much to contribute on the NES but in retrospect it was through my interactions with this console that I really came to see the raw potential that video games had and the many possibilities that could come to be. For that I am thankful to the NES.