The NES has a special place in my heart. It was the first console I had growing up, and I have a bunch of memories of playing it. I remember playing on this old CRT TV which we had to turn all the lights out just so we could see the screen. I don’t remember why, but the NES was set up in our laundry room. It was a creepy room! I was also five and being in the dark, I started to see stuff which wasn’t there. It was a strange mix of having fun while playing The Legend of Zelda while freaking myself out. Mostly, I remember renting games from the different video stores.
Our town didn’t have a Blockbuster. We had a Family Video, and we had the general store. My town really had a general store where you could rent movies, video games, buy candy, and get fireworks. It was an amazing store! The nice lady also didn’t care about kids renting R rated movies. It was also one of the first places I remember seeing unlicensed NES games. My friend Joe rented one of them. It was Baby Boomer, at least I’m pretty sure it was Baby Boomer. I remember they had Crystal Mines, but for some reason I remember him saying he rented Baby Boomer.
I feel like no one really knew how many games there were at the time, and you could make up a few without anyone knowing. Now, if you want to know if a game existed you could just find out with the internet. This was the way I found out about the launch titles for the NES. For the time, it has a really good launch line up. There were a lot of arcade like games, light gun games, and the R.O.B. the robot games. The Famicom launched with three games, the NES in North America launched with 18, and in Europe it launched with nine.
One thing I noticed which seemed strange to me was how the soccer game wasn’t a launch title in Europe. I’m not sure why. Anyway, let’s look at the games that launched with the NES in North America. The story of this launch has been told plenty of times. You can read about it in the book Game Over and there are plenty of YouTube videos going over it. I just want to look at the games. These were the first wave of Black Box games. These games were in black boxes with cover art which resembled the in-game graphics. This was part of Nintendo’s strategy to separate itself from the way video games had been marketed previously.
The two R.O.B. games are strange to me. Growing up, I didn’t know they existed. Nintendo had given up on it by the time I started paying attention to Nintendo. If I had known there was a robot which could play video games with me, I would have asked for it for Christmas or my birthday. Once I played it for a few minutes I probably would have given up on it. It only had two games, and they weren’t all that much fun. Stack up and Gyromite are not as much fun as they sound. It also can take some time to get R.O.B. set up. The most interesting thing about the games, at least for me, is that they weren’t localized for the western market.
When you start up either game, you’ll notice the title screens don’t match the titles on the cartridges. It’s because Nintendo just used the Famicom games instead of making new ones. If you open up the cartridges, then you can see the 60-pin Famicom board hooked up to a 72-pin converter. I’m a little surprised they didn’t do this with other games. While R.O.B. helped to get the NES into homes it didn’t have much of a life after those two games. Much like the Power Pad, Nintendo game up on it after the gimmick ran its course.
The light gun games had a bit more staying power. Light guns had been used before the NES, both on home consoles and in the arcades. The launch titles using the light gun are Duck Hunt, Wild Gunman, and Hogan’s Alley. I remember Duck Hunt the most. We had the Super Mario and Duck Hunt multi cart. I didn’t know there was a stand-alone Duck Hunt game for the longest time. I also didn’t know there was just a Super Mario cartridge either. I had only seen the multi cart for those two games, and the one that included World Class Track Meet. That all came later though.
I love light gun games! However, the games I like came from the 90s. Games like House of the Dead, Virtual Cop, and the largely forgotten CarnEvil. I probably wouldn’t have played them if it hadn’t been for Duck Hunt. I didn’t know it was a two-player game until recently. If you have a controller plugged in, you can control the ducks. So, while the first player is trying to shoot them, the second player can move the around with the second controller. I’m sure it said this in the manual, but we never read them and for many of these games you didn’t need to read them.
The rest of the games are mostly arcade games. They aren’t necessarily based on arcade games, but they do give you that same experience. This includes the sports games.
I actually find this version of baseball to be easier than other baseball games on the NES. It’s not any different from any other baseball game from this time. It’s a simulation of a single game. You don’t get to play a season, the teams don’t represent real teams as far as I can tell, and it has some issues with control. Like other baseball games, I find it infuriating when you try to throw to one of the bases. I never know which base I’m going to throw to. It’s the only thing I really hate about the game. It’s a fun game, but I just don’t think I would have liked it growing up. I wasn’t a fan of baseball and didn’t play little league as a kid, but my friends all liked it and they rented baseball games all the time.
10 Yard Fight is not a great game on the NES. At least I really didn’t like it at all. There are no plays, you can only control one of two players, and in my opinion, it just controls like crap. Every play is a run-pass option. I guess this was easier to program. On defense you select between two players. I believe one is a Defensive Back and the other is a Linebacker, I could be wrong though. Playing it now, it’s kind of a miserable experience. Back in the mid-80s, it probably looked good. When you compare it to other sports games at the time, I can see this one standing out among the crowd. However, once Tecmo Bowl came out, there was probably no reason to come back to this game.
If you were just looking for a way to play football in the mid-80s, 10 Yard Fight was the best option on a home console, and the only option on the NES. It is the worst of the early sports titles I was able to play. I don’t have a copy of Soccer or Tennis. I just wasn’t interested in picking up either when I was collecting games, and I’m not going for a complete set. From what I have seen, they are in the same vein of being simulations. You can’t really do much outside of play single games. They do look pretty good for the time though.
The Arcade games were one of the big draws for the system. At the time, home consoles were still focused on bringing the arcade experience into the living rooms, bedrooms, and basements. Wherever you had your console set up. Like I mentioned, mine was in our laundry room for some reason. If you grew up playing in the arcades it was probably awesome to have this experience in your home. I didn’t grow up anywhere near an arcade. It didn’t change the fun I had with the NES games; it just created a different experience. I would play a game on the NES, and maybe I would see the arcade game in a restaurant, movie theater, roller rink, or in a Chuck ‘e Cheese.
Games like Super Mario Bros, Ice Climber, Clu Clu Land, and Wrecking Crew would have fit into the arcades quite nicely. Even if they weren’t all in the arcades, they brought the experience of playing an arcade game to the NES. Some of them are mind boggling, Clu Clu Land, and others are Iconic like Super Mario Bros. I remember playing the game for the first time, watching my brother and sister play it, and hearing my dad tell me how he would play it after we went to bed. Video games didn’t stick with all of us though. My Sister and my dad stopped playing video games. Looking back at many of these games, I couldn’t see myself playing them for longer than 30 minutes or so. That was kind of the point of them though. They weren’t meant to give you the same experience as games in the 90s, 2000s, or 2010s. Video Games were still simple back then.
Over time, people started to demand more from video games. New genres started to emerge which created different, and in my opinion, better experiences with video games. They expanded from just short distractions and competitions over high scores and became something where you could tell stories with a deeper plot. In the mid-80s though These were average to great games. Super Mario is probably the game that lasted through the years. A lot of this had to do with how Nintendo marketed Mario and the quality of the games.
The last game I wanted to talk about is Excitebike. This is a game I have a love hate relationship with. The only time I played it was at a cousin’s house. I’m not sure why he bought Excitebike, but I guess you could say that about every game from this time. Many of them were probably bought based off name recognition, or just from looking at the box art. Most kids didn’t have access to reviews, and regardless of what some people say, not everyone had or knew about Nintendo Power and it’s predecessor the Fun Club News Letter.
The reason I like Excitebike is because of the level editor. I hadn’t seen something like it in any other game at the time. I didn’t know you couldn’t save your levels, but it didn’t really matter. It was just fun to build something crazy and seeing how it would work. Riding your dirt bike through an impossible level was just awesome! What I hate about it is the way your bike overheats. I know you can regulate it if you’re good at the game. I’m not good at this game at all. I’m also terrible at landing the bike, which is also part of the fun of the game. You wreck your bike and just hop back onto it. The game is fun, but it can be so frustrating as you keep overheating and wrecking your bike.
There are other launch games which I don’t own and couldn’t play for this. I think each of the games I could play is a fun game. Keeping in mind I’m playing these thirty plus years after they were released. Each of them contributed something to the success of the NES, some more so than others. I think my favorite games out of the launch titles were: Super Mario Bros, Duck Hunt, Clu Clu Land, and Excitebike. Even if the game frustrated me, it was done in a way which made me want to keep playing. I didn’t feel the need to rage quit any of them. There were a few Black Box games which I thought were launch titles. Especially, Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, Popeye, and Pro Wrestling. Some were launch titles in Japan, and I always think of Pro Wrestling when I think of the early NES games.
The NES means a lot to me. Some of my earliest memories come from playing this system and a few of the launch titles. I still remember getting to level 70 something in clay pigeon. While the games would get much better over time, these first games set the stage for many of the memories I have of playing video games.