This is a long overdue question that I’ve been meaning to ask for a while but held off since the blog was elsewhere. Part of the reason why I’m asking is not only for myself, but because I think a lot of your readers are in the same situation (you’ll soon understand why as you read).
For the past couple of years ever since I got into gaming with the Wii (before that I was crazy about Pokemon and Mario but that’s it), I’ve been playing a lot of old classics. Mainly from the general consensus on the internet and your blog, I’ve played a lot of the older Zelda, Mario, Metroid (+Prime), the PC strategy games like Civilization and the ones you recently talked about, FF and DQ and so on. I’ve been also playing a lot of modern games that I liked a lot like Disgaea, more Pokemon, Xenoblade, Smash Bros Brawl, Advance Wars, Castlevania etc as they came out. And yes, I also played games like Ducktales and Starfox some other S/NES games you talked about.
I still have a lot more to go through, and I’m enjoying them a lot, but there’s a problem with this situation that you may have picked up on by now. Among the old games, I’ve only ever played classics. And sometimes I feel like I’m not really enjoying them to the fullest because I don’t know any other kind of game. You can’t truly know how gaming was during the NES, SNES/Genesis and 90′s PC gaming if you only play the games that stood the test of two decades. Also, part of me wants to know if maybe I will like some of those games more than the supposed classics.
So to get to my question, do you have any good games from that era that were popular then, but aren’t considered classics now? I am mainly thinking about the NES and SNES, but as you are recently talking more about PC, I will definitely also accept recommendations of that system.
I’d say the biggest difference from playing games in their current time (don’t you feel like you have a deLorean as if you went back in time playing these old games?) is two things.
1) Multiplayer and party experiences- Game experience changes a ton when you play with other people as well as playing games as a party. I think the SNES game library has better reception today than the Genesis game library because so many single player RPG and adventure games were on the SNES. Genesis had many multiplayer sports games that were big. So a game like the original Mario Brothers is best played with someone else if you can find someone who thinks like you. Gauntlet is more fun with other people. Playing games from the future means it is hard to get the multiplayer experience of that time.
2) Optimism for the Future- I remember a big part of the experience as also being optimistic for the future. When we first played Wii Sports, everyone got excited because if Wii Sports was this good, how great would the other games be? Now that we’re in the future, we know those other great motion control games didn’t come out. When Ocarina of Time came out, Zelda fans were very excited about the future. Majora’s Mask was just a ‘fast’ game cranked out. So everyone was excited about upcoming Zelda. Gamecube had Wind Waker which was a disappointment. Zelda fans said, “It’s an off game.” When Twilight Princess got premiered, the Zelda fans were HYPED and screaming with joy at what they thought was coming.
I remember being so obsessed with gaming during the NES days because of how much faith I had in the future. If gaming was THIS AWESOME today, then it would be as good or even better! SNES was better in some ways, worse in others. But as the consoles began competing against each other, I began to bail out. “Our game has more blood than Mortal Kombat. We’re so mature.” “Not uh! Our games have more gore so we’re more mature.” It was so stupid. But on the PC side of gaming then was beginning the Internet revolution for gaming so I just stayed there until the DS and Wii came out.
Games that sold well but aren’t considered classics today? Well, let us see. I don’t consider Battletoads to be a classic because the game is so uneven in its difficulty. But it sold well.
Many of the sports and racing games sold well but are not considered classics (because no one buys old sports or old racing games). Tecmo Bowl, Double Dribble, RBI Baseball 1,2,3, Blades of Steel, the NES sports games like Tennis and Golf, and even the wrestling games. For racing, you had R.C. Pro AM, Rad Racer, Michael Andretti World Cup, Super Sprint, and even Nintendo’s Mach Rider.
The licensed games were extremely popular and sold very, very well.
I remember these games being extremely popular. Some consider the TMNT II and III to be classics. They probably are.
I forgot about the ninja and shmup games. Kung Fu was very popular as were the Ninja Gaiden games (though probably considered classics).
Shmups always sold well. An extremely popular shmup was Life Force. I LOVE Life Force for the NES and it may be considered a classic (probably should be). Only the people who played NES at that time seem to remember the impact of Life Force. Shmup snobs just turn their noses at it today. Jerks.
No one wants to admit but the above game was very popular for the NES. Sure, Gradius was popular but Gradius is considered a classic. Life Force isn’t for some reason.
Life Force is REALLY fun to play with a friend. The two player co-op was huge when many games didn’t have it. I still think the game is fun to this day. (There is a cheat you can use that gives you 30 lives too.) Ikari Warriors was also popular as it got several sequels.
Here is a small list where you can see the best selling NES games. Note that most of the best selling games are considered classics today. The ones up there that aren’t are racing and sports games.
Any of the arcade ports would be popular like Marble Madness, Pac-Man, Gauntlet, Paper-Boy, Gyruss, and so on. There were NES ports of popular PC games at the time. Some became very popular on the NES (like Shadowgate) while others didn’t (Archon). I would check out Spy Vs. Spy for the NES as that was a great conversion and a great multiplayer game as well. It has also become quite a hit as a re-release on tablets. Lode Runner, Activision’s Ghostbusters, M.U.L.E. were also on the NES as well as Ultima III, IV, and V.
For Genesis, I’d say sports, racing, and arcade games dominated the ‘best selling but not classic’ games list. For Genesis, I’d look up Aladdin, Lion King, Toe Jam and Earl (hugely popular back then), and NBA Jam.
For the SNES, I’d look up Killer Instinct, Mario Paint, Final Fight, and Romancing Saga. Knights of the Round, by Capcom, was VERY popular back then, but I don’t hear anyone talk about it today.
What you need to find, emailer, is the community pick lists that were featured in every classic Nintendo Power.
I loved those lists then, and I love them today. What a fascinating snapshot into time itself. You can really tell what people were playing at that month and what they thought were the ‘best games’. Granted, these were Nintendo Power consumers which were more passionate and informed of gaming than the other Nintendo customers. You can see how dominating some of the classics were then on the list when they were brand new. Look at Legend of Zelda! The game just stays at the top. To hell with Aonuma and he saying that ‘no one liked that gameplay back then, time to make more puzzles and NPC dialogues’.
What’s even more interesting is that Nintendo Power created some sort of point system and would record how many months the game had been released. I think the point system is probably votes. So on Gameboy, you can see that 2d Mario crushes everything and people even like Kirby (another 2d platformer) as well. Even Metroid II, which Sakamoto and other ‘learned critics’ of gaming say wasn’t a good game is very popular and got many votes (as it is in the top 3, behind Super Mario Land 1 and 2).
I would like access to these lists just for historical purposes. I believe they would destroy myths of games people say weren’t popular but were (like Metroid II). The non-classic games on the list were likely a licensed game from Disney or a sports or racing game.
One thing I missed about Nintendo Power was creating passion for games and trying out new games. Game magazines are falling apart, like game websites are, because of lost credibility. They kept pushing and hyping bad games. But in issue 1 of Nintendo Power where it hypes Mega Man 2 and telling me to buy that game because it is amazing, well Nintendo Power was right. Nintendo Power actually did have credibility in those times because it pushed some really great games and gave detailed information about how the games worked (as well as showing maps of like the first few stages). Remember when Nintendo Power hyped Metal Storm and even put the game on its cover? It was a great game! Didn’t sell too well, but they were pushing great games.
Today, since game sites and game magazines have failed, people look to the Gaming Message Forums to find out about the great games they’re not playing. And just as predictably, viral marketers have infested the gaming forums and certain hardcore gamers become partisans who push for their game because they want it to sell well or something. We need a new magazine that could do something like that.
“Why don’t you make it, Malstrom?”
I’ve thought about it. But it has been a number of things I’ve tossed around in my head. It’s just for fun, but I’ve tried to imagine how that would work in today’s era. Perhaps a tablet type magazine. Who knows, maybe a Nintendo orientated magazine could be sold on Nintendo’s E-shop.
One crazy idea I had was to do the ‘Masterpiece Theater’ thing but with gaming (Masterpiece Gaming) where I would talk in a British accent and try to persuade the viewer to try out the ‘high culture’ of certain games of the past.
Can you imagine if that was converted to gaming? It would be ‘Masterpiece Gaming with Malstrom’ brought to you by… the Konami Corporation. You’d see Atari 2600s, classic arcade cabinets, Commodore 64 and other classic PCs, the NES, a bust of Miyamoto surely, photos of the computer and gaming revolution (in black and white to make it seem really old and authentic) all in a fancy dancy mansion of wine glasses, expensive tables, and all that you see there. I would be in an executive leather chair, smoking a cigar, and talking in a British accent about the ‘high culture’ of games. Hahahahahahaha. Since every gaming site does the T-shirt and jeans type thing and tries to be ‘hip’, I’d do the total opposite. I’d be the all snooty ‘high culture’, ‘high class’, sophisticated, gaming-as-literature thing. I can’t stop laughing about seeing such a thing play out in my mind.
But why not? You have movies presented as ‘high culture’. You have books presented as ‘high culture’. You have music presented as ‘high culture’? Why not video games?