While it’s played coy about the NX, heading into a Christmas push with barely any new games for its 3DS or Wii U, Nintendo’s been plotting a stealth hardware release all along. The NES Mini is the very first official vintage hardware to come out of Nintendo, a spin on the Atari Flashback console that introduced the world to the idea of a tiny console replica with a selection of games built right in. The NES Mini sports 30 NES games in its innards, a number suited to celebrate the box’s 30th anniversary. Mega Man 2, Zelda, Super Mario Bros. 3. Many staples are represented but some real stinkers--like the truly terrible Pac-man NES port--are cluttering it up. Here are 30 others we wish had made the cut.
Sure, Nintendo got Final Fantasy for the NES Mini but where’s Square’s sweet OutRun clone made by the same team? Published by Nintendo, Rad Racer’s best attribute is Nobuo Uematsu’s killer chiptune songs.
Battletoads is not great after the third level. Rare’s signature NES game becomes a buggy, unplayable exercise in raw masochism, but its first three stages are some of the best NES action ever made. NES Mini already has a few iconic-but-terrible games in Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins and Castlevania 2; it’s blasphemous to leave out the ‘toads.
Konami, the company that’s pretty much abandoned video games, is shockingly well represented in the NES Mini line up. The likes of Gradius and Castlevania are missing their best NES-exclusive stablemates like Jackal, the all Jeeps, all the time shooter. That’s it. You’re a Jeep, you shoot tanks with ping pong balls and they explode. You have to save dudes and put them in helicopters. It’s the best.
Taito’s Bubble Bobble made the NES Mini cut but Power Blade didn’t. What does its bubble-vomiting dinosaurs have that Power Blade doesn’t, damn it? Bobble doesn’t have what appears to be unemployed Arnold Schwarzenegger wearing sweatpants and an old tank top while he runs around hitting robots with an orange boomberang. Power Blade certainly does and it rules.
Part of the appeal of the NES Mini is that it frees folks from using aged hardware and purchasing hard to find cartridges. No cartridge is harder to find than Little Samson, a brilliant platformer with branching levels that lets you control a little Journey to the West Son Goku clone, a rock golem, a dragon, and a mouse that poops bombs. It was made by the guy who designed the original Mega Man. Real cartridges go for about $2000 these days.
Like many Capcom games on the NES, Bionic Commando started as an arcade game and then turned into something entirely different and more ambitious on Nintendo’s machine. What was a goofy little shooter with a stubby grappling hook guy as the hero turned into one of the most exacting platformers ever made. Nearly 30 years after its release, nothing else feels like swinging Radd Spencer--that is the hero’s actual name, and he’s got the hair to match--through Future Nazi bases. This game ends with you exploding Hitler’s face and you see the explosion happen in a series of exceptionally graphic images.
Part of what made Capcom so exciting on the NES was its willingness to experiment. Just like Bionic Commando, Section-Z was an arcade game warped beyond recognition on NES, turning into a shaky sci-fi exploration game with a Metroid-lite open ended structure. It was almost too confusing with the lack of a map, but it has deliciously acidic atmosphere.
No console had as many shoot ‘em ups as the NES. You couldn’t spit without hitting a billion Gradius clones. Abbadox is a Gradius clone, yes, and it cribs its whole flying into a giant living organism schtick from pseudo Gradius sequel Life Force. No game on NES is as terrifyingly grotesque, though. Giant disembodied mouths of ill-fitting teeth, acid-spewing eyeballs, spaceship-sized laser-covered dogs coated in rotting flesh; Abbadox is Gradius by way of ‘80s Clive Barker.
Dragon Quest 1-4
Final Fantasy has its place in history but Dragon Quest--Dragon Warrior to those Westerners raised on ye olde NES--is the hardware’s true RPG champion. All four NES entries in the series actually made it out of Japan, and all of them have their merits. The original is the Mitochondrial Eve of JRPGS that still messed with tropes like the rescued princess, Dragon Quest 2 added a multi-character party, 3 has multiple worlds and an unusual psychological test to determine who your main character is, and 4 remains brilliant for its story structure linking multiple contained character stories into a larger epic.
25 years. That’s how long it took Nintendo of America to release the NES version of its deeply idiosyncratic role-playing game. Sort of about small town America, sort of about 1950s b-movies, entirely about writer and comedian Shigesato Itoi’s surreal sense of sentimentality, Earthbound Zero plays a whole lot like Dragon Quest if it were made by Hairspray-era John Waters. Which is to say you get in random battles and eat burgers found in trash cans to heal. Nintendo localized this for the NES back in 1990 but only released it on Wii U in 2015. Throw those Earthbound weirdoes a bone, Nintendo.
Castlevania 3: Dracula's Curse
Oh there’s already Castlevania 1 and 2 on NES Mini? That should satisfy my thirst for vampire murder? No. Never. Castlevania 3 is a contender for best game in the entire series, with thick, weird art, multiple paths through the game, and four characters that play so differently from each other that it recontextualized what Castlevania could be. Also, there’s a good reason its soundtrack made our best ; it melts brains with solid gold righteousness, that’s why.
JVC and LucasArts’ Star Wars platformers are primarily remembered because of the on SNES, but it actually started adapting the trilogy for NES. Tough as old leather and inscrutable at times, NES Star Wars is actually an eminently playable adaptation of the original film. Rolling around Tatooine on a landspeeder, running absurdly fast as Luke Skywalker to make improbable long jumps over Boba Fett, bringing people back to life with Obi-Wan Kenobi’s force powers. Okay, it took some liberties, but it does let you control Luke, Han, and Leia in some sprawling stages on their first adventure.
The absence of licensed games from the NES Mini line up is understandable, but come on Nintendo, Disney, and Capcom. You crazy kids already started playing nice again on Wii U with DuckTales Remastered! New cartridges of Scrooge McDuck’s vivid, world hopping platformer were even made to commemorate the remake. What’s it going to hurt to actually generate some sweet, sweet royalties with one of the NES’ defining classics on this little box? Let a new generation experience the “Moon” theme song.
Hudsonsoft’s games were always way more interesting than they were good. Blaster Master is the perfect example. The idea of driving a weird car tank through an endless interconnected series of subterranean forests, swamps, and techno-organic caves while occasionally stopping so a little bobble head man can shoot frogs with squeaky bubbles is intoxicating. Of course I want to do that, everyone wants to do that. The cruel checkpoints, lack of a map, and infrequent power ups that you lose every time you play make Blaster Master a vicious grind. Grinding is the worst, but tank frog adventures are worth it.
A Boy and His Blob
David Crane either loved the world with endless affection or hated everyone so much that he needed revenge on them. Either way, David Crane’s A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobonia--yes, that’s the title--is the result. Ostensibly a boy meets alien adventure, Crane’s game takes a hard left turn thanks to the alien’s special skills. The perpetually leering, glutinous mass that is your best pal will take different shapes depending on what kind of jellybeans you feed him. Root beer for a rocket, apple for a jack, coconut for a bowling ball; the blob changes shape but never loses its blood red eyes and disdain for logical level progression. Everyone deserves to experience the joy of feeding the blob jellybeans and the misery of not knowing what to do with him afterward at least once.
Kabuki: Quantum Fighter
No premise was too bizarre for the NES. There’s a computer virus taking over the world’s military defense systems! And it’s manifesting as horrid slime monsters and disembodied mouths inside the computer program world, which is covered with little platforms to do death defying, Gymkata-approved flips off of! The only way to stop it is to take a computer programmer, digitize him, and turn him into a Kabuki theater actor who’s also a warrior and blows things up by whipping them with his hair. All of this happens in Kabuki: Quantum Fighter on NES, one of Satoru Iwata’s early originals at HAL Laboratory. What better way to honor his memory than to get this freakout in more players’ hands?
Rare made 40 games for the NES between 1987 and 1994. Many of them--like their adaptations of Jeopardy and Wheel of Fortune--were terrible. RC Pro-Am, a slippery proto-Mario Kart, is one of its best. Races are only between four radio-controlled trucks, but rather than feel small scale, RC Pro Am sometimes feels too chaotic. Everything moves incredibly fast so you have to be painstakingly precise when using the missiles and bombs to take out competitors while sliding wildly around tight corners. To have it out today on Rare Replay and not this glorious box just seems wrong.
Irem was busy making arcade staples like R-Type during the NES’ heyday and most of its work on consoles was in porting those big games to small screens. Metal Storm is one of its rare NES originals, a platformer where you steer around a big Gundam-looking mech shooting robots, aliens, and other usual suspects. What made it unique then and keeps it delicious now is that rather than the ability to jump, you can reverse the gravity at the tap of a button. This turns what seem to be staid action stages into tricky gauntlets that require equally nimble reflexes and strategic thinking. Cartridges fetch over $100 these days, making the NES Mini an ideal second chance for Irem’s overlooked goodness.
Battle of Olympus
The NES Mini has Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link, giving an undeservedly scorned game yet another chance to prove itself. Zelda 2 isn’t a bad game, it’s just badly balanced! Make it a little easier, ease up on how long it takes to build Link’s stats, and you’ve got a winning formula. Battle of Olympus for the NES is proof that a side-scrolling RPG on the NES with a vaguely elfin dude fighting angry winged anthropmorphs can be great fun. Structured very similar to Zelda 2, Battle of Olympus runs you through the a more violent version of the story of Orpheus descending into the underworld. Sliding this in next to Zelda 2 might help NES Mini players reassess Link’s adventure.
After thirty years, people just think that doofy meathead asking Internet denizens if they’re bad enough dudes to rescue the President from ninjas is just some kind of message board meme. It is not. That is the real premise for a real game about real bad dudes really punching ninjas while wearing sweatpants. They actually have to rescue Ronald Reagan from ninjas after jumping across the tops of semi trucks driving dangerously close to each other. The NES Mini isn’t just an opportunity to entertain young minds; it’s an opportunity to educate them.
How is Pac-man NES on the NES Mini when Kung Fu isn’t? One of the very first games published by Nintendo in the US, Kung Fu is an adaptation of the arcade game Spartan X which was itself a spin on the Bruce Lee flick Game of Death. Dig this, though: Kung Fu is actually much, much better than the arcade game that inspired it. Thomas, the kung fu practitioner in question, marches up a pagoda floor by floor, kicking dudes in purple pants suits in the face until he fights Mister X. Simple and elegant.
The Krion Conquest
Mega Man 2 made the NES Mini cut. Good. If you’re only going to have one Mega Man in there then that’s the one to have, but you’ve got to think about gender representation up in this machine, Nintendo! It’s 2016 and the young women of tomorrow deserve a Mega Man of their own. Luckily The Krion Conquest exists. It is (to a litigious degree, honestly) the exact same type of run-jump-and-shoot game as Mega Man starring a tiny big-eyed witch with a wand rather than a tiny big-eyed robot. She even walks exactly like Mega Man and it’s delightful.
River City Ransom
Did you think awesome high school video games started with Persona 4? No way, brothers and sisters of the land. Long, long before Chie was best girl, Technos made a game about little teenage greasers with no necks and enormous heads who fought each other on the streets outside of school. It was known as River City Ransom and it let you eat burgers to improve your quality of life between hitting punks in the dome. Dome-hit punks would yell, “BARF!” when you hit them. River City Ransom is another of those carts that’s become prohibitively expensive today, so its inclusion on NES Mini would be welcome to both bargain seekers and folks nostalgic for high school. Wait. That’s what high school was like for everyone, right?
I don’t even know what to do with you, Nintendo and Konami. Super C is on NES Mini, the eminently enjoyable but nowhere near as memorable sequel to one of the most famous and beloved shooters of all time? Do you hate spreadshots? Do you hate the Konami code? Is this all some kind of devious trick to get people to buy the NES Mini 2 in a year just so the can remember the blissful feeling of jumping up a waterfall while shooting footballs so they can fire sugar cubes into a furiously beating alien heart? You’re monsters.
Look. Just because you wake up one day and decide, “Hey, the sun doesn’t exist anymore and I’m going to prove it by acting like it’s not there at all!” that doesn’t make the sun vanish. The sun is still there, Konami. Everyone still knows Metal Gear exists. They also know that the NES version, while foundational, is not the best version of the game that’s out there. Why not let go of your grudge and throw that ROM out to the 40-year-old player with fond memories of making Solid Snake punch a dog in the face, though, huh? Just put it on the NES Mini next to Castlevania and make some scratch.
Double Dribble and Blades of Steel
Fine. I realize that the inclusion of two more Konami games seems like some kind of grudge or obsession is at play here, but the reality is that Konami was almost as responsible for establishing the look, feel and sound of NES games as Nintendo itself was. The company’s output was peerless, and even its worst games tended to tower above others in quality. The NES Mini includes Tecmo Bowl, the definitive NES football series, but it’s missing its definitive basketball and hockey games. Double Dribble and Blades of Steel did what the very best NES sports games did: blend the real sport’s rules with some seriously flashy, dramatic embellishment. For Double Dribble, it was the addition of full on cutscenes for dunks. For Blades of Steel, it was adding one on one fights with big detailed players on the ice. For the long lapsed players picking up an NES Mini to relive the glory days, these are essential links in their chain of memories.