Every successful platform will have legions of games in any genre that appeal to players of all stripes. Unfortunately with such a huge volume of releases some games will always slip through the cracks. While they don’t get the recognition they deserve they are no less deserving of your attention. The NES in particular suffered from timing. It wasn’t until a few years after the system’s release that dedicated gaming publications appeared informing the public of new releases. So gamers were left to read the back of the box, which often had disastrous results. Toward the end of the system’s life many games went unnoticed; here is a top ten of some of the best:
1. Whomp ‘Em
Someone tried to be a little too clever with the title. Whomp ‘Em is the localized version of Saiyuki World 2, which was based on the Journey to the West. Despite its Native American makeover the gameplay remains intact. The best way to describe it is Mega Man with an Indian protagonist. The similarities come from the game’s six tests. These can be completed in any order granting new abilities. Soaring Eagle is a more versatile protagonist as his spear can perform a number of functions at the onset and only grows from there. The levels weren’t designed to take full advantage of your burgeoning abilities but are still fun regardless. The large variety of abilities and weapons makes an already fun game that much better however with Whomp Em ranking up with the best for the system.
2. Kickle Cubicle
Every now and then I like to kick back with a nice puzzle game to stretch my brain. Games like Kickle Cubicle and Mendel Palace serve as nice alternatives to the brutal platformers that dominated the NES library. As Kickle you must use your ice related abilities to collect all of the red dream bags within the time limit. Although a single screen puzzler the puzzles are incredibly clever, often featuring simple solutions for the most complex arrangements. Even better, with skill you can create alternative solutions to a given puzzle. While unconventional Kickle Cubicle also features boss battles for a nice change of pace. With its near perfect learning curve the game is an absolute joy to play and one I highly recommend.
3. Mission Impossible
Most probably don’t even know there was a short lived Mission Impossible TV show in favor of the movies. Konami were able to spin gold out of the second TV series as your team of agents are tasked with rescuing Dr. O and agent Reed from the Sinister 7. Mission Impossible takes many of the stealth elements of Metal Gear and adapts it to a team structure and overhead view. Each team member has specific skills necessary to complete each level and the way the game integrates them is brilliant. Although level based the game is massive and a little free form. While that can be annoying it does lttle to diminish a fantastic game.
4. Isolated Warrior
You want to talk about rare, I almost never saw Isolated Warrior in any stores. If it weren’t for Nintendo Power I would have never heard of the game. That would be a shame as it truly is an amazing hidden gem. The isometric viewpoint was rare in that period but works extremely well here. Equal parts action and platformer the level design is excellent as it branches off into separate paths. Isolated warrior avoids the mistakes of similar games with any kind of platforming by offering a large degree of control while airborne. For some added variety there are vehicle based levels thrown in the mix too. It looks spectacular and is well paced leading up to a worthwhile conclusion to this hidden gem.
5. Cowboy Kid
Konami left all three Famicom Goemon games in Japan so this hidden gem is the closest western gamers got to its incredible gameplay. Each nonlinear level offers a large variety of activities to partake in on the way to the end level goal. Although there is a 20 minute time limit in each level its more than generous to allow you to fool around. There is even a slight Mega Man vibe allowing you to tackle the game’s six wanted criminals in any order. While it lacks Goemon’s sense of humor Cowboy Kid it does have its moments. The only drawback is a rough opening where you are only armed with a knife. Stick with it and it gets better. Unfortunately Cowboy Kid is one of the rarest NES games in the US. You’ll have to pay a premium for this one.
6. Gun Nac
Gun Nac is a deceptive game. It comes across as Zanac’s goofy younger brother but is actually more intense. In fact the game gives you the option of prioritizing speed or graphics. Regardless of your choice one of the most hectic NES shooters awaits, possibly only rivaled by the import only Recca. Compile were no stranger to the genre and while Gun Nac is similar to Zanac it is far better. More and better designed weapons, better designed and paced levels and greater production values make Gun Nac one of my favorite shooters for the system.
7. Gremlins 2 – the New Batch
Considering the absolutely terrible licensed trash Akklaim and LJN released I don’t blame most for skipping Gremlins 2. Their loss as it is Sunsoft firing on all cylinders. Erase any memories of Fester’s Quest as Gremlins 2 is simply fantastic. While you wouldn’t expect it the movie’s plot and variety of gremlins make excellent fodder for an action game. As Gizmo you will amass an arsenal of weapons as you clear the Clamp Enterprises building of your twisted brethren. There’s a decent amount of platforming that actually works and the game is balanced if a bit easy. It’s like the Jason portions of Blaster Master on steroids but actually great. Sunsoft have combined stellar production values with top notch gameplay to create one of the best overhead action games for the system.
As a 1992 release for the NES KickMaster was almost destined for obscurity. Those that did play it know that it is absolutely fantastic, combining elements from many different genres to create a beast of a game. KickMaster has the martial arts moves of a Double Dragon with the action of Ninja Gaiden as well as RPG elements. This strange concoction works extremely well and makes the game feel unique. There are a large number of moves to keep combat fresh as well as magic. The simple controls make pulling off the variety of attacks easy letting you focus on the excellent level design and graphics. The developer KID produced a number of underrated titles such as Low G Man and Burai Fighter with KickMaster being the best.
9. Super Spy Hunter
Everyone remembers Spy Hunter for the slick rendition of the Peter Gunn theme. We don’t talk about the game itself because it’s terrible and pointless. However! Super Spy Hunter is fantastic. It takes nearly everything you might have liked about the original and gives the game an actual goal and levels. The same fast pace is present however you now have the tools to keep up. In fact you control the pace and since there is no time limit can take your time if need be. There are a host of cool weapons and numerous vehicles to pilot such as a motorboat and even a helicopter. Level variety is extremely high and while they tend to run a bit long it is never obtrusive. Since it was developed by Sunsoft you already know the production values are insane.
The most surprising fact however is that this wasn’t even a Spy Hunter game to begin with! Originally released in Japan as Battle Formula the similarities are so close I’m surprised they weren’t sued. We lucked out as Super Spy Hunter is an excellent addition to the NES library.
As the last of Kemco’s three MacVenture ports the Uninvited isn’t as well known as Shadowgate but is just as creepy. After swerving to avoid hitting a shadowy figure in the road you awaken to find your sister missing. The only clues points to a nearby Haunted Mansion and you leave to investigate. Uninvited uses the same point and click interface as its sister titles and while slow by today’s standards is serviceable. Thanks in part to its real world setting the game is more accessible than Shadowgate as it provides better hints and more logical puzzles. The environment is also less interactive which means there are less random deaths and item clicking. That doesn’t make the game any less creepy and its flavorful text is a delight to read. All 3 MacVenture games are entertaining ways to kill an afternoon and Uninvited deserves a higher profile in my opinion.