Fun fact: This was the first known game to feature a duck battling a squid on the moon.
I remember that I liked the show Duck Tales as a kid, but for some reason I only have vague memories of what it was actually like. By contrast, I remember the game vividly, even though I’m fairly sure the time I spent watching the show exceeded the time I spent playing the game by a pretty good margin. Duck Tales (which, I discovered just now when I fired up the rom to grab a screenshot, was actually made by Capcom) documented Scrooge McDuck’s quest to travel to various parts of the world – and the moon – and bounce on everything in sight with his mysterious pogo cane. Some enemies would drop diamonds when you bounced on them, and some would just get a really offended look on their face while they flashed and flew off the screen.
Nothing about this game was particularly innovative, but despite how overloaded the NES was with sidescrollers, Duck Tales managed to be unique and fun enough to become one of the best games of that era. There were secret rooms everywhere, a secret boss, and ice cream cones that would occasionally fall out of the background for no real reason. Plus, while everybody had played sidescrollers where you simply run around and jump, no one had played one where you spent 80% of your time bouncing around on a pogo stick and trying to time double and triple jumps off of enemies to get high enough to reach all the powerups. Also this game solved the mystery of whether the moon is made of cheese(yes)and whether the moon’s gravity is exactly the same as the earth’s.(also yes)
Little Nemo: The Dream Master
Little Nemo, which broke new ground by being set in the year 1905 and not 20XX, was about a kid who is visited in the middle of the night by some weird pointy-hatted fairy who invites him to “Slumberland” and very non-suggestively tells him that “the princess has selected you as her playmate!” Our quick-thinking hero’s mind rapidly assembles all the pieces of this mysterious puzzle before he announces his conclusion: “If she’s a princess, then she must be a girl!” Taken aback by this young man’s quick and cunning mind, the fairy replies with “She’s not just any girl, she’s a princess!” Refusing to be swayed, Nemo takes point, set and match in the argument by boldly announcing “I bet she’s still a girl!”
That frog doesn't seem all that bothered that a kid just ran up and jumped down his throat.In awe of Nemo’s flawless debate skills, the fairy leads him to Slumberland, where he meets a green clown in a top hat named Flip. Flip gives Nemo a quick rundown of the controls and lets Nemo know that the place they’re in is far too dangerous for a young boy. He then proceeds to use his clown powers to instantly vanish without even offering to take Nemo with him. Thanks a lot, fucker.
Fortunately, Nemo has a secret weapon to use against the evil frogs and death snails – a limitless supply of candy. Certain animals (specifically, the ones who don’t immediately try to trample you or bite your face off) enjoy being fed candy, and if you feed them three or four pieces they will fall asleep, at which point you can jump on them and ride them. However, in most cases you won’t actually ride them, you’ll put the animal on like a suit and gain its abilities – if you’re a frog you can swim well and jump high, if you’re a mole you can dig through dirt, etc. It’s all very strange, but since it takes place in the dreams of a kid with 400 pieces of candy in his pocket I think that’s to be expected.
Adventures of Lolo
Adventures of Lolo was the first action/puzzle game I ever played, and to this day it remains one of the most addictive. Lolo, the hero of this strange little story, resembles a giant blue gumball with arms and legs. The intro details the heinous abduction of Princess Lala, Lolo’s girlfriend who I suspect is also his sister due to their suspiciously similar names. Lala, a pink gumball or perhaps a big round wad of silly putty, is carried off into the sky by “Great Devil”, some kind of short fat armored turtle-thing, who laughs at Lolo before flying off to his castle. Lolo, after careful consideration, decides that ain’t no one gonna get away with jackin’ his bitch, so he storms the castle and cleverly sneaks in by walking through the front door.
Awww.The gameplay is an entertaining mix of puzzle solving and frantically racing around the room like a spaz. In order to clear each room you have to collect all of the room’s heart tokens, some of which give you the ability to shoot two energy blasts. Each room has a treasure chest that only opens once all the heart tokens have been collected. Once you collect all the heart tokens and get to the open treasure chest, the room’s door opens and you’re free to move on to the next room. However, your progress will be impeded by a variety of enemies, who all selflessly dedicate themselves to the noble goal of pissing you off.
A green smiling worm. It won’t hurt you at all, but it also won’t get the fuck out of your way, so the only way to get past it is to turn it into an egg with an energy blast.
Sleeping dinosaurs. Every room with these guys has a hidden trigger that will wake them up, like a certain heart token that you get. Once they wake up they sit there looking very, VERY excited and spit slow fireballs at you whenever you walk into their line of sight. Not the scariest enemies in the world.
Some round green frog-looking guy. He easily claims the coveted title of “second most annoying enemy in the game” with his neurotic behavior, which consists mostly of rapidly hopping around like an ADD child after a two day pixie stick binge. However, once he touches you, he instantly falls asleep and there is no way to wake him up. Due to the way the levels are laid out, his dreaded narcolepsy attack will often trap you in a corner, leaving you with no choice but to commit suicide.
A dinosaur that looks sort of like Dodongo from Legend of Zelda. All he does is chase you around nonstop, but he’s one of the hardest enemies because he moves exactly as fast as you do and touching him kills you instantly.
Some stationary object that looks sort of like a bush with a face. Walking into this enemy’s line of sight literally guarantees your untimely death, as it will instantly freeze you to the spot and blast your blue ass with a fireball. Fortunately they are rooted to the spot and can’t move. If they could move then they would probably be in the hall of fame for the most frequent causes of broken NES controllers, right below the spike cave in Double Dragon and the speedbike level in Battletoads.
This was actually a pretty complex game for its time. In addition to all these enemies plus a few more that I probably forgot to mention, you had an energy blast that could turn an enemy into an egg. Then you could push the egg around and use it for cover from fireballs. Or if there was water nearby you could push the egg in and use it as a bridge, or a raft if the water had any current. There was also a powerup that let you build permanent bridges across water. There were one-way blocks that you could only pass through from one angle, but there was a powerup you could get that would let you reverse one of them. There were glowing areas where you could walk but your enemies couldn’t, dirt areas that would slow you down but wouldn’t affect the running dinosaur, and a whole bunch of other shit that I’ve forgotten about since the last time I played it. If you want a challenging action/puzzle game with plenty of depth and a ton of levels, this heartwarming gumball love story just might be what you’re looking for.
A lot of horrible things have been spawned from the NES age (all of the games in the ROM pit, Super Mario Brothers: The Movie, Nintendo Cereal, R.O.B, the Power Glove) but there was also a lot of unexplored territory at that time, and occasionally a company that went out on a limb and tried something crazy ended up striking gold. I’d say these games pretty much cancel out most of the bad stuff, and it might even run into positive territory when you consider that there’s a surprisingly good melodic metal/alternative band that gets its inspiration from 8-bit game music. What made the 8-bit era so entertaining was the combination of third party companies making some excellent games while Nintendo provided a series of hilarious failures with the terrible peripherals they kept trying to market. If you didn’t experience the NES age and you don’t remember what it was like to laugh your ass off while a company humiliated itself by releasing a doomed piece of hardware, don’t worry – Nokia is going to helpfully remind us when they release the N-Gage.
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