Picture this. You’re nine years old and it’s Christmas. Amongst the stacks of brightly wrapped boxes, you know exactly which one to tear into first. The one that’s shaped like an NES game.
What will it be? Final Fantasy? The Legend of Zelda? OH MAN! Maybe Super Mario Bros 3! Mom just took you to see The Wizard. Maybe she got the hint.
“This is it,” you think. “This is what I’ll be playing until my birthday.” You tear open the package to find – Tazmania? Bad Dudes? James Bond Jr? Tough luck, kiddo. That’s what you’ll be playing for the rest of the year.
The point? Retro games have to have staying power. Aside from rentals, and that videogame magazine your parents didn’t read, we had little control over the games we wanted. And for every mom who knew to buy straight from your letter to Santa, there was always the grandma who didn’t know any better.
In Round 3 of Retro Thunderdome’s Battle of the NES Launch Library, we look at the longevity of the Final Four. At $50 a pop, there was no going to the store for a new title. These bad boys had to last us twelve long months. To test this, I did the following:
- Each game was played for a minimum of a half hour.
- Throughout, I recorded what I did in the game, how I scored, how far I got, etc.
- Using that information, I decided which game I’d rather spend months playing, and from there, determined the winners.
- REMINDER: Super Mario Bros was not included in this competition because it wouldn’t be fair. One of the most celebrated games in Nintendo’s history versus Gyromite? Would have been a slaughter.
Here’s how we got here:
Time to decide the final two combatants!
Excitebike versus Wild Gunman
What I Did –Tried Selection A (solo time trials) twice, played Selection B (time trials with three other racers), made my own track, and attempted the hardest track in the game.
How I Did – Couldn’t make it past Track 4 during the solo time trials. Got destroyed in the racing section. Created a track straight from the spawn of Satan. Got absolutely annihilated by the 5th track.
Results: Having only five computer generated tracks to choose from killed some of the solo fun. By the end of my play through, I was already beating the first few like a boss. The real joy is playing against the CPU racers and building my own track. Crashing into my fellow combatants was a blast and heightened the game’s challenge. Left to my own devices as a kid, I would have probably mastered the courses in a few weekends. Playing against other bikes adds a randomized nature to the race.
Creating my own course was baffling at first, creating some disastrous raceways. As I went on and learned the difference between the “C” and “S” elements, it became easier. Excitebike’s biggest sin is a lack of two player mode. That said, I could see myself plunking many an hour into this classic.
Score: 4 wheelies out of 5.
What I Did – Faced off against villainous western folk in both one-at-a-time and two-at-a-time modes. Played the Gang Mode, a shooting gallery where baddies pop up in one of five windows / doors to take down.
How I Did – Went through 13 guys during one-at-a-time before losing all my lives, got through 10 pairings during two-at-a-time. During Gang Mode, I made it through 6 waves.
Results: At first, I was having more fun with this than Excitebike. Taking down the colorful characters and watching their over-the-top death animations was a ton of fun. The trouble here is repetition. The slow build up to the showdown sacrifices pacing for authenticity.
The big issue is Gang Mode, which you would think be the most exciting of the three. Taking down a gang of thugs like a badge wearing sheriff should last hours. As a kid, I would have built fiction around it. Problem is, the waves aren’t random. Each wave is a preset pattern that’s easy to memorize. After a few minutes, I was breezing through rounds one, two, and three. And don’t doubt the memorization abilities of a seven year old. We had to memorize vocabulary words.
Score: 3 headshots out of 5.
Kung Fu versus Duck Hunt
What I Did – Played the A Mode dozens of times, getting felled by snakes and bees left and right. Made it to the beginning of Level 4 before my half hour ran out. Played B Mode (hard difficultly) for five minutes.
How I Did – Progressively got better in A Mode, got completely wrecked in B Mode.
Results: Kung Fu succeeds in the attention holding department in two ways: pacing and control. The levels move along briskly, with a solid variety of enemies to fight off. Each level feels distinct and the different level bosses were unique for the time.
Regardless of how many times I played, quick kicking three purple dudes in a row never got old. The basic story kept me going, and even though there’s only five stages, hard mode beckoned. It’s amazing how good core gameplay can keep you engaged, even if there’s no real variation.
Score: 4.25 kicks to the cranium out of 5
What I Did – Mostly played the One Duck mode, with some time spent on Two Duck and Clay Pigeon.
How I Did – Made it to round 10 of One Duck before moving on to other modes. Then played to Round 7 of Two Duck before losing. Went on to finish out with Clay Pidgeon, which I absolutely crushed.
Results: Will the world kill me if I admit to getting a bit bored with Duck Hunt? Let me clarify. The game is a lot of fun, and among the entire launch library (other than SMB), holds up the best. Blowing ducks out of the sky while a giggling dog mocks your failures is a blast. Two ducks is doubly hard and even Clay Shooting, which on the outside looks like an afterthought for animal lovers, is surprisingly enjoyable.
But could I play it for hours? I don’t think so for a couple of reasons. Initially, the Zapper is empowering, but after a period of time, it becomes a pointing device. The charm of it dissipates over time. Once you’ve gotten the rhythm of the game down, it’s pretty easy to succeed, even in the later waves. Two Ducks is tougher, but it’s same core game mechanic. This is a very close one, but I think Kung Fu would have more staying power than Duck Hunt. That and Duck Hunt shared a cart with Super Mario Bros. Talk about being born in the shadow of a legend.
Score: 4 laughing dogs out of 5.
WINNER: KUNG FU
That’s it! The finals have been set. A high kicking karate champ takes on a field of dirt bikes in the final round. Come on back for the finals! I promise it won’t take two months to get written.