It's widely expected that Nintendo will offer its new Wii U home console for sale this winter. It will be the sixth home console from the company in the United States, starting with its vaunted Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, debuting here in 1985.
The NES console's success has led many people over the years to consider Nintendo synonymous with gaming. After all, it was the company that brought gaming from the ashes of Atari back into homes everywhere.
To mark The Big N's approaching milestone, the Manifesto's columnists offer their picks for the greatest games on each of the company's U.S. consoles over the course of the coming months.
Many of these titles are available on the Wii's Virtual Console, so check them out and see the ancestors of today's top games.
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This 8-bit, whip-happy action platformer is how the series began. It has spawned dozens of follow-up games and countless copycat titles. And that's even with it being crazy difficult at times. And I'm not talking oh-shoot-I-better-try-again hard. I'm talking smash-your-controller-and-scream-obscenities-you-didn't-even-know-existed hard.
It was a near-perfect masterpiece with just a few flaws. So what if vampire hunter Simon Belmont has the vertical jump of a river slug? So what if skeletons spontaneously combust when they are whipped? So what if airborne Medusa heads are the most irritating thing since fingernails on a chalkboard? Despite all that, it's that good.
So whether you're going back and re-re-re-re-re-replaying this legendary game or are completely new to it, grab some popcorn and hunker down for the single best classic gaming experience that can be found anywhere. To Simon Belmont: I raise a toast to you, good sir — whip it, whip it real good.
Most underrated NES game: Battletoads
WILL WOOD JR.
Up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right ...
You know what? I don't even need to finish the rest of that code. Every serious gamer knows that series as the start of the "Konami Code," which gave you 30 lives in Contra and a slew of other perks in games by developer Konami. In Contra, it took those 30 lives for Lance "Scorpion" Bean and Bill "Mad Dog" Rizer to thwart the Red Falcon Organization's plan to take over the Earth.
Before Call of Duty, there was this run-and-gun game with two military commandos who had plenty of cool weapons at their disposal, including machine guns, spread guns and fire guns.
This was one of the best two-player cooperative titles on the NES. Yes, Double Dragon was good. River City Ransom also was a classic. And there were Contra sequels, but no other game had a legacy as large as this one — so much so that people recognize that code 25 years after Contra's release.
For you non-gamers, the rest of the code is B, A and start, or select then start if you're playing co-op.
Most underrated NES game: Blades of Steel.
'The Legend of Zelda'
When I was a kid, it was always obvious when I was playing a Nintendo game — the light on the gray boxy NES would stay red for days at a time. That was, of course, a minor annoyance to my mom, who always reminded me to turn it off before we left the house. "I can't," I would explain, because I would lose my progress and be forced to start over.
Unless it was The Legend of Zelda. The action-adventure game featured a battery pack allowing saves. It was an innovation in a game that was full of them.
Stellar story. Check.
Catchy music. Check.
Replay value. Check.
I continue to replay the game annually. It's that much fun to explore the land of Hyrule, solve the puzzling dungeons and impale Ganon with a silver arrow.
And speaking of replay value, not many NES games offered a full-on second quest. I had always found it too difficult but finally beat it last year, just as the series turned 25.
Most underrated NES game: Baseball Stars
'Town and Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage'
I was a poor kid. I got my second-hand NES about the time its successor, the Super Nintendo, hit store shelves. Most of my games were bought for $1 or less at flea markets and garage sales.
I ended up with lots of games you probably have never played, because most kids didn't want to part with beloved classics such as Super Mario Bros. and Zelda. Admittedly, most of my games were junk, but there were a few gems.
One of those was Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage. The game was licensed by T&C Surf Designs, a Hawaii-based surfboard manufacturer.
There were two sections to the game: skateboarding and surfing. Each mode saw you trying to cross the finish line by avoiding obstacles — seagulls, swimmers, oil spills and remote-controlled cars — all while memorable 8-bit surf music played in the background. Each level you completed added longer levels and more obstacles.
My only complaint with the game was that it was incredibly difficult. But that made success all the sweeter each time you crossed the finish line.
Most underrated NES game: Low G Man (bet you never played this one, either).
Forget the happy music and cheery blue skies of Super Mario Bros. This game had eerie sound effects and took place on the planet Zebes, an open world full of evil alien things ready to get you. For an '80s console game, Metroid was cutting-edge stuff.
You started with the space version of a single-shot pea shooter, but by the end, you're blasting monsters with heavy weapons: ice beams and wave beams. With other power-ups, you could crouch into a ball and go through tunnels to explore new places on the map.
In the end, you had a countdown to escape an explosion that would destroy all the baddies. Depending on how long you took to finish the game, you got one of several finishing scenes. If you finished up in decent time, your armor-clad bounty hunter character took off the helmet to reveal that she was a woman.
Most underrated NES game: Kid Icarus