Super Mario Bros. / Duck Hunt

Super Mario Bros. / Duck HuntThe Game: Intrepid plumbers Mario and Luigi have fallen back on Mario’s original mandate – rescuing the damsel – as they journey through the kingdom, battling Koopas and braving falls from dizzying heights, all to Buy this gamerescue the princess (who, as always, seems to be in another castle). In Duck Hunt things are a bit more normal – you’re just trying to nail some ducks in the wild, with the help and encouragement (and, if you let one get away, derisive laughter) from your trusty huntin’ dawg. (Nintendo, 1985)

Memories: Right up there with Atari 2600 Pac-Man in ubiquity, and almost universally loved (think about that for a moment – how many video games reach quite that level of popularity?), Super Mario Bros. was the ticket the NES needed to break into the U.S. market. Continue reading

Wrecking Crew

Wrecking CrewThe Game: Mario toils away on a construction site when his tools turn against him and start acting like, well, tools. Now Mario has to outfox his own tools and demolish the platforms around them – maybe taking the tools out in the process. He has his trusty hammer, and strategically placed bombs help to speed the process as well (but can be dangerous if Mario hangs around too close). Great care must be taken to demolish the structures in the correct order so access isn’t cut off to areas needed to finish the level. (Nintendo, 1985)

Memories: Possibly the most obscure of Mario’s career detours, this game at least depicts Mario in the same job he was pursuing before Donkey Kong came along: as a construction worker of some kind, rather than a plumber. At its heart, though, Wrecking Crew is about blowing stuff up – in the right order – rather than building anything. It’s a neat puzzle game disguised as a platformer. Continue reading

Donkey Kong 3

Donkey Kong 3The Game: As Stanley the gardener, you’re trying to repel a swarm of pests unleashed by that meanest of pixellated gorillas, while also using your pesticide to propel him off the screen. Protect your flowers and yourself, and wear plenty of Off. (Nintendo, 1986)

Memories: As much as many gamers don’t grow as attached to Donkey Kong 3 as they did with the first games in that series, with its Mario-less sidestep into shooter territory, it’s still quite a bit of fun, and this NES cartridge captures the arcade experience perfectly. Continue reading

Donkey Kong

Donkey KongThe Game: An oversized gorilla kidnaps Mario’s girlfriend and hauls her up to the top of a building which is presumably under construction. You are Mario, dodging Donkey Kong’s never-ending hail of rolling barrels and “foxfires” in your See the videoBuy this gameattempt to climb to the top of the building and topple Donkey Kong. You can actually do this a number of times, and then the game begins again with the aforementioned girlfriend in captivity once more. (Nintendo, 1986)

Memories: Once upon a time, Donkey Kong for the ColecoVision was the Donkey Kong experience to beat: short of going to the arcade, it didn’t get any better than that. But Coleco had only negotiated the console rights to the game, and nearly lost that contract when they goofed and showed a version of the game for their ill-fated Adam computer at a 1983 Consumer Electronics Show – though the home computer rights had been granted to Atari. In just two years’ time, none of that would matter – the crash came and went, Coleco exited the home computer and video game businesses, a seriously weakened Atari refocused its efforts on computer hardware, and Nintendo had its own video game console on the US market. Continue reading

Donkey Kong Junior

Donkey Kong JuniorThe Game: Mario has Donkey Kong in captivity, and it’s up to Donkey Kong Jr. to rescue his dad by scaling vines and chains, avoiding nasty-toothed traps and pesky birds, and reaching the key to free the great ape from Mario’s clutches. (Nintendo, 1985)

Memories: A fairly popular arcade game like Donkey Kong Junior was bound to be ported to home consoles, and the translations ran the gamut from not-good-at-all to good enough. Surely if anyone could really capture the essence of the coin-op, it’d be Nintendo itself. Continue reading

The Legend Of Zelda

The Legend Of ZeldaThe Game: Link wanders the kingdom of Hyrule, attempting to defeat the minions of the evil Ganon and trying to gather the weapons, tools, and items he will need to free the kingdom. Most vital on his quest is the recovery of all the pieces of the magical Triforce, the most powerful force that can be brought against Ganon. But as each piece is recovered and each part of the quest is completed, the next leg of the journey is even more difficult. (Nintendo, 1987)

Memories: If Super Mario Bros. and the Donkey Kong series hadn’t already marked the arrival of Shigeru Miyamoto as a master video game designer, the deal was sealed with the arrival of The Legend Of Zelda, which was a game-changing entry in the adventure genre, to say the very least. Zelda was the title that finally blew down the door and gained wide acceptance for adventure games that couldn’t be finished in a single sitting. Prior to this, adventure games had a niche audience, but tweaking the conventions and expectations of the genre and putting it on a console instead of a computer made Zelda a winner. Continue reading

Godzilla: Monster Of Monsters

Godzilla: Monster Of MonstersThe Game: It is the year 2XXX (don’t worry, we couldn’t find it on our calendars either), and Planet X has declared war on Earth’s solar system, sending its finest kaiju into the fray. In this time of our most desperate need, Godzilla and Mothra step forward to defend the Earth and fight for humanity, taking out enemy installations, spacecraft and even those pesky enemy monsters. But even Godzilla and Mothra can only take so much damage… (Toho Studios/Nintendo, 1988)

Memories: Not exactly Godzilla’s finest hour, Monster Of Monsters is a fairly average side-scrolling fighting game that just happens to feature the King of Monsters as its star. And while there’s a certain thrill to having Godzilla as one’s on-screen avatar, the game itself doesn’t do a lot to distinguish itself from the glut of similar side-scrolling fighters that was out at the time. Continue reading

Baseball

BaseballThe Game: Baseball returns to the small screen – the very small screen – on the Game Boy. Step up to the plate and take a swing; after three outs, take control of the pitcher, basemen and outfield, trying to keep the computer from scoring a run. (Nintendo, 1989)

Memories: If Baseball! on the Odyssey2 was my favorite iteration of baseball as a video game during the 1980s, Nintendo‘s Baseball was my favorite of the late ’80s and ’90s. I remember spending a lot of quality time with this game on my first Game Boy – and most of that time was fun and challenging rather than frustrating, placing this well above quite a few baseball video games. Continue reading

Super Mario Land

Super Mario LandThe Game: As intrepid plumber (and explorer) Mario, players have to jump through new environments and enemies to help Mario rescue Daisy. Egyptian pyramids guarded by fire-breathing Sphinxes, seaside platforms invaded by space aliens, and the usual Goombas and Koopas await Mario as he tries to reach the end of each level. As always, there are mushrooms, stars and fire flowers to help Mario power up, and helpful hidden chambers full of coins. (Nintendo, 1989)

Memories: One of the original Game Boy launch titles, Super Mario Land was almost the game that was included with the Game Boy itself. And why not? Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 were certified smash hits with the same kind of household-name recognition that had once been the sole domain of Pac-Man. Continue reading

Qix

QixThe Game: You are a marker, trying to claim as much of the playing field as you can by enclosing areas of it. Drawing your boundaries faster is safer, but yields fewer points. A slower draw, which leaves you vulnerable to attack from the Qix and the Sparx, gives you many more points upon the completion of an enclosed area. If the ever-shifting Qix touches your marker or an uncompleted boundary you are drawing, you lose a “life” and start again. And the Sparx, which travel only along the edges of the playing field and along the boundaries of areas of the screen you’ve already enclosed, can destroy you by touching your marker. And if you linger too long, a fuse will begin burning at the beginning of your unfinished boundary, and will eventually catch up with you. (Nintendo/Taito, 1990)

See the videoOne of the few completely abstract arcade games ever to catch on with the public, Qix is very hard to get wrong, and this adaptation – an early first-party Game Boy cartridge patterned after a similarly first-person NES version – certainly doesn’t get it wrong. It’s pure Qix, without any added bull about having to uncover a picture by claiming area on the playfield. Continue reading

SimCity

SimCityThe Game: Players start with a blank slate of a land mass, a budget, and their hopes and dreams. The building of a city begins (usually with a power plant of some kind), a delicate attempt to balance residential, commercial, and industrial space, transportation systems, demands from the public, and tax rates. The city will flourish, stagnate, or empty out and completely fail depending upon the player’s mayoral choices. (Nintendo/Maxis, 1991)

Memories: SimCity started out as a computer game, with all that implies – mouse control, keystroke commands, and complexity that shouldn’t be that easy to boil down into console form. This console port for the SNES, published just a few years after the original DOS PC game’s popularity explosion, is more faithful to its source material than anyone had any reasonable chance to expect. Continue reading

Super Mario Kart

Super Mario KartThe Game: It’s a big day at the races, with a field of drivers selected from the Mushroom Kingdom: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Bowser, and even Donkey Kong Jr. are among the racers vying for the top spot. From the grassy Mushroom course to the punishingly muddy Star course to the oceanside Flower course, there are challenges, hairpin turns and obstacles. Whoever can learn to navigate each course the fastest without ending up out of bounds struggling to get back on the course will be the winner. (Nintendo, 1992)

Memories: At a time when Nintendo could’ve been accused of returning to the well too many times for Super Mario, they instead took a racing game and populated it with a cast from the Mario mythos. The characters are more or less incidental to the game, mere window dressing that was actually added months into the development cycle of a game that started off without them – but it was clearly a shrewd marketing move to include them, as Super Mario Kart became one of the SNES‘ most-loved games. Continue reading

Yoshi

YoshiThe Game: Mario has to keep more plates spinning than usual. With a plate in each hand, Mario must be moved underneath a never-ending onslaught of enemy creatures. The object of the game is to stack up identical creatures to eliminate them from play, and, when possible, to stack up the two halves of Yoshi eggs to allow a new Yoshi to hatch. Management of the creature stacks is vital, since a stack exceeding the height of the play area ends the game. In two-player mode, both players simultaneously try to outdo the other. (Nintendo, 1992)

Memories: Yoshi first appeared in 1990’s Super Mario World on the SNES, but Nintendo was keen to keep the character in the public eye. The result is a game for the NES that looks and feels just a little bit rushed. Continue reading

Super Mario RPG

Super Mario RPGThe Game: The seemingly endless battle between Mario and Bowser continues with the Koopa king’s latest kidnapping of the princess. A fierce battle ensues in Bowser’s castle, ending with what seems like a swift defeat for Bowser, when another combatant appears: a huge sword from the sky impales the castle, driving both Mario and Bowser out and preventing them from returning. Mario has to embark on an extended quest through the Mushroom Kingdom and other realms, gradually accumulating a band of locals to help him fight his way through the perils he meets along the way. He has to recover the seven pieces of the Star Road before he can resume his battle against the Smithy Gang bent on taking over his world. (Nintendo / Square, 1996)

Memories: An unlikely joint project between ’90s RPG powerhouse Square and Nintendo, this game took the universe of Super Mario Bros. and overlaid it on the action RPG structure that both companies had made famous and evolved over the previous decade. As strange as it was to try to get one’s head around a Mario game with a combat system and a “special items” menu, Super Mario RPG actually works beautifully.

Super Mario RPGAnd it doesn’t look or sound bad either – for quite a while, this was the gold standard for a game set in the Marioverse; even later attempts to drag Super Mario Bros. into 3-D rendered graphics on the N64 didn’t have the beauty and level of detail in Super Mario RPG. The music is hummable and drags you into the game’s world effectively, and only refers to the well-worn tunes from previous entries in the Super Mario franchise occasionally. So many Mario games had spent so much time making inside-joke references to the previous games in the series that Super Mario RPG was a novelty simply because of how much it didn’t do that.

As a game play experience, it’s effective and addictive. A simple menu system makes good use of the ocean of buttons on the SNES controller, and it quickly gets to be second nature, which is a good thing – even during the turn-based combat segments, players can affect the outcome of their battles with carefully timed control combos, keeping the turn-based fights from being a boring necessity. The non-combat majority of the game is free-flowing, Super Mario RPGnicely animated, and just plain pretty to look at. Even with the N64’s superior graphics hardware, it would be a long time before a Mario game came along to top this one.

With this gourmet recipe for greatness, it was therefore only natural that Square and Nintendo had a parting of the ways after Super Mario RPG, primarily over Square’s desire to carry its Final Fantasy franchise over to the then-new Sony Playstation. The result was that it would be five years before there was a successor to Super Mario RPG, and even then it couldn’t use the same structure, conventions and characters from the previous game. The resulting Paper Mario series has become a success in its own right, but the debate continues as to whether Super Mario RPGor not it’s ever attained the shining-moment-of-greatness that Super Mario RPG was for so many years – when this game arrived on the Wii Virtual Console, it was a Big Deal to those who remembered it so fondly.

5 quarters!Super Mario RPG was a singular event in the development of the Super Mario franchise, offering a fresh take on the familiar characters and settings, while introducing an entire world’s worth of new places and characters. In many ways it’s still one of the high points.

Mario Kart Super Circuit

Mario Kart: Super CircuitThe Game: It’s a big day at the races, with a field of drivers selected from the Mushroom Kingdom: Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Toad, Bowser, and even Donkey Kong Jr. are among the racers vying for the top spot. From the grassy Mushroom course to the punishingly muddy Star course to the oceanside Flower course, there are challenges, hairpin turns and obstacles. Whoever can learn to navigate each course the fastest without ending up out of bounds struggling to get back on the course will be the winner. (Nintendo, 2001)

Memories: A better-than-merely-passable handheld version of Super Mario Kart, this game may actually exceed its inspiration by offering new environments, new drivers and other neat twists. For the most part, it’s a genuine improvement. Continue reading

Wii Play

Wii PlayThe Game: Wii Play gathers a collection of mini-games in one place, from fishing, billiards and target shooting to a futuristic hockey game and tank battles, each showcasing different ways that the Wii remote controls Buy this gamecan be used. (Nintendo, 2007)

Memories: As with Wii Sports, Wii Play is an easy-to-pick-up but hard-to-put-down grouping of fairly simple minigames. Some of the games in Wii Play simulate real sports, while others delve into more abstract areas of game play. That’s the good news, and the even better news is that just about all of them are fun, making this another all-in-one first-party home run for Nintendo – if anyone knows a dozen different ways to use the Wii controllers, it should be the folks who made the things. Continue reading

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