Friday, 15 July 2016

Comments on the Mini NES

Nintendo just announced the Mini NES.It's basically a small flash drive with HDMI output and a couple of controller ports that holds 30 NES games. I  strongly suspect it's made out of repurposed Wii and WiiU parts. There isn't really much to say about the device itself. I think that as a way to purchase a pile of computer games to introduce to younger generations it's a good deal.

I would however like to talk a bit about the included games. Access to third party titles was apparentally something all the big publishers were okay with, so it has real potential to tell the whole story of the NES and showcase some highlights of a generation. For the most part, it does so. There's a few adjustments I'd like to make, as well as comments on the games I am okay with. The list is in alphabetical order, so let's just follow that!

 Balloon Fight (1985, by R&D1)
 This game's inclusion was inevitable. It was one of the first games recently deceased Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata's programmed. While that shadow certainly adds to the narrative, the title is itself a great example of the abstract ideas that small game dev teams can bandy about and attempt to make real. There's no coherent theming to the package, but I wouldn't particularly call it "random" or "wacky". It's more like... a fruit salad of programming tricks.
Verdict: Leave in

Bubble Bobble (1986, by Taito)
This is one of those arcade games that is so goddamn long that the real challenge always felt like having the patience to go through the whole thing in a single go rather than any diagetic threats. It's still a mechanically robust title whose influence continues to be felt in all sorts of ways. It has chain bonuses! It has attempts at physics! It has penalties for taking too long  on levels that challenge to a player without just outright booting them out!It served as a precursor to the concept of New Game+! It has multiple endings! Those last two are themselves well worth showing to younger plays as the journey to work out how to see them all and solve the code is the sort of adventure that can really build attachment to a game.
Verdict: Console version takes a bit of the financial stress away, allowing people to discover the hidden depths. Leave in.

Castlevania (1986, by Konami)
Bubble Bobble is a good example of an arcade game that is somewhat improved by the home console environment. Castlevania on the other hand is a game that truly showed how developers should transition to a console mindset. The game is built around testing how well a player can interpret its rules while also playing trust games that keep them unsure about whether they've got it all worked out right. Yet despite its at times crushing cruelty, the game has a very tightly implemented continuation system after failure occurs. There aren't very many instant deaths, there's a variety of checkpoints and while there's limited lives, the Continue option has no resource tied to it.
Verdict: Oh come on, it's one of my favourite games in the genre. Leave in.

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (1987, by Konami)
While the myriad blunders of design in this game come from a noble desire to not just rehash its predecessor, this is not an experience I would wish on people. The first game communicates ideas and rules without a single word. Simon's Quest is loaded with words and they manage to impede progress. More importantly though, this dang device already has Metroid, Zelda II and bloody Kid Icarus to fill up the Exploratory Platformer genre, so this is just dead weight.
Verdict: Waste of space. Zelda II covers the same ground and is slightly less tedious. Scrap it
Replace with: Tetris (1989, by Bullet-Proof Software/Alexey Pajitnov)
It's downright baffling that this device doesn't contain the definitive pre-Guidelines, pre-Arika Tetris experience.

Donkey Kong (1980, Nintendo R&D1)
It's the computer game that saved all those Radar Scope cabs from killing the company. It's the game that invented the Platformer genre. It's one of the first games to have multiple loops. It's a game that is both far more thrilling when gated by credits and far less deep than its Gameboy sequel 14 years later, but it's a part of the Nintendo story worth experiencing at least once.
Verdict: I'd rather play other games, but as a history lesson it's valuable. Leave in.

Donkey Kong Jr. (1982, Nintendo R&D1)
It's all well and good to show kids that Jumpman/Mario once had a brief Heel run, but that's just about the only contribution this game makes. I'm not very fond of this title at the best of times, and think we could  be far better serviced with a more distinct Nintendo title.
Verdict: Nobody actually enjoys this game. Scrap it.
Replace with: Wario's Woods (1994, Nintendo R&D1)
I think it would be neat to include the final licensed NES title on this device. It's a bit of historic closure and might be a title yet to be experienced by even elder players using this device to show their children some history. An experience that's fresh for multiple generations at once can be a very special moment.

Double Dragon 2: (1988, by Technos Japan)
Including the most famous NES-era beat 'em up franchise in some form was inevitable, though I still think Mighty Final Fight is a more mechanically interesting title.
Verdict: Good for busting nostalgia towards a mediocre game. Play Dragon's Crown afterwards. Leave in

Dr. Mario (1990, Nintendo R&D1)
 Aaaaaand there's the token puzzle game entry. It's certainly no Puyo Puyo Tsu or Catherine as a competitive puzzler, but it's also the only "Mario With New Clothes" game on the list.
Verdict: Inevitable choice and a fine game. Leave in.

Excitebike (1985, Nintendo R&D1)
Just play the 3DS port by Arika. Excitebike's not a two-player game and the 8-bit era's racing options aren't very exciting. The only reason you likely remember this game is not because of its merits, but because Nintendo finds ways to remind people periodically that it exists.
Verdict: I'd genuinely prefer to play the autoscrolling stages of Battletoads. Scrap it.
Replace with:  The Adventures of Bayou Billy (1989, Konami)
I ditched a Konami title earlier, so now they get one back. This one has drivin'. And shootin'. And the Ragin' Cajun'... Bayou Billy.
If Nintendo wants to treat people with contempt, they should do it right, damn it!

Final Fantasy (1987, Squaresoft)
You can tell this list was compiled by someone not from Japan by way of this game being here instead of Dragon Quest or those neat NES ports of Ultima 3 and Ultima 4.This one really feels like it's here for branding reasons rather than being a definitive NES experience. After all, the Wonder Swan Colour and GBA remakes are far more satisfying than the original bug-riddled mess.
Verdict: I'd really rather see the game that was more influential to developers in Dragon Quest make it here. Are Garland jokes and Solo Thief runs really more exciting to you? Could take or leave. Would prefer Dragon Quest (1986, Enix)

Galaga (1981, Namco)
Look Nintendo, if you're going to celebrate the birth of arcade games, then use goddamn Space Invaders. If you're going to celebrate fixed-screen vertical shooters, use Donkey Kong 3. If you want to really expose people to an incredibly influential vertical shooter, USE XEVIOUS YOU MORONS! It's a far better fit for a console environment and is kinda that game everyone from Toaplan to Final Form Games mentions when talking about the genre.

Ghosts 'n Goblins (1985, Capcom)
I usually think of the Arcade or Mega Drive iterations when I think of this series. I also think of how it manages to feel even clunkier than Castlevania. I don't think there's a single game as good for doing the Four Yorkshiremen sketch with kids though. These games thoroughly revel in their contempt towards whoever's holding the controller, but keep you going with their neat art and delightful music composition.
Verdict: Another classic platformer on the non-Mario end of the difficulty scale. Keep it.

Gradius (1985, Konami)
Not having the origin of the horizontal shooter in a NES compilation would be like not having Fantasy Zone in a Sega compilation. Joke about Konami Code here.
Verdict: Shoot the core. Keep it.

 Ice Climber (1985, Nintendo R&D1)
 This is one of those games that feels to me is only on the list because of Nintendo's long, poor history with third party devs. Why acknowledge someone else when you could talk about some mediocre game whose characters would eventually develop a cool infinite in Super Smash Bros. Melee?
Verdict: There's more interesting games we could put here. Scrap it.
Replace with: Bionic Commando (1988, Capcom)
Ditch the dull platformer with the platformer where you both cannot jump and shoot Adolf Hitler in the head!

Kid Icarus (1986, Nintendo R&D1)
As long as there has been a human concept of the afterlife, there has been the concept of eternal Kirdamnation and suffering. Some think it may involve perpetually burning lakes of sulphur. Others repeated flaying. Some adhere to the Nine Circles described so vividly by Dante Alighieri. Still more suppose that perhaps an absence of God means an absence of any sensation. That Hell is in fact pure boredom.

They are all wrong. Hell is Kid Icarus.

I was baffled about the lack of Tetris, but am truly dumbfounded that Nintendo doesn't want this miserable experience excised from history. Nobody deserves Kid Icarus. Maybe Hiroshi Yamauchi, the hateful bastard.
Verdict: Please do not play Kid Icarus to test my hyperbole. Set the backups on fire.
Replace with: Blaster Master (1988, Sunsoft)
It may not be the fastest or smoothest experience on the NES, but it's also one of the few Sunsoft titles with a localised release. It's also a great example of the wide ambition and experimentation that was allowed to occur in even the bigger players at the time. 

Kirby's Adventure (1993, HAL Laboratory)
It's the first Kirby title to feature the Copy ability. I generally prefer to play either of te first two Dream Land titles when I get the Early Kirby itch, but it's another solid title from a dev team who understand how to make easy yet still satisfying platformers.
Verdict: Iconic character in a well made computer game. Keep it.

Mario Bros. (1983, Nintendo R&D1)
 This is a game that is important to acknowledge of looking at the history of Nintendo, but it's another arcade port that doesn't really benefit from the home console environment. Its most enjoyable elements are also available in Super Mario Bros. 3 which is of course also on the device.
Verdict: I think we could have a more enjoyable game in this slot. Scrap it.
Replace with: Snake, Rattle 'n Roll (1991, Rare)
There's a distinct lack of Western-made games on this device, and giving some respect to the company that reverse-engineered Nintendo's hardware would be nice. There's also no nasty isometric games with wonky platform detection, both signs of how even in simpler times, computer games are bastards to make. I may also have a bias since this was the first console game I played.

Mega Man 2 (1988, Capcom)
I don't think it's the best entry in the series on the NES. It's still the passion project that turned Mega Man from being known as "that game with some notably poor level design" to "that series with too many dang games which is sometimes incredibly good at communicating ideas without using words". And so the Blue Bomber became immortalised in perlers at all conventions and speedrun marathons after Capcom finally put him to rest.
Verdict: The most famous entry in the series. Keep it.

Metroid (1986, Nintendo R&D1)
I haven't talked about it much on this weblog, but Super Metroid is one of my favourite games and I hold a lot of respect for what Metroid II: The Return of Samus manages to achieve with a monochrome LCD screen and barely any space. What's even more impressive is that both succeed a bad game. Part of the joy of exploring is identifying unique landmarks and mapping out either on paper or in your head in relation to them. Metroid instead opts for repeating extremely similar screens ad nauseum while also having some atrociously tedious areas to leave quickly.
Verdict: Worth playing just to see how far the Exploratory Platformer genre came after this and Pitfall 2. Keep it.

 Ninja Gaiden (1988, Tecmo)
 I love this game almost as much as I love Castlevania. While Konami's title encourages caution and awareness of surroundings, Ninja Gaiden is all about ruthless aggression and twitch reactions. Slay your foes without missing a beat or else the birds will spawn wrong and throw you into the bottomless pits. It wonderfully captures the essence of all that is NINJA. Somehow feeling incredibly fast, incredibly powerful and yet incredibly vulnerable.
Verdict: Keep it.

PAC-MAN (1980, Namco)
I prefer to see titles like this in Arcade compilations, but the popularity of titles like Pac-man 256 provide enough context to put the NES port on a nostalgia/education machine like the Mini NES. Those sounds will always be wrong to me though.
Verdict: Oh alright, you get to Keep this one.

Punch-Out!! Featuring Mr. Dream (1987, Nintendo R&D3)
The Punch-Out!! games are, along with the beat 'em up genre, the games you should hand to people who complain that versus fighting games don't have enough single player content. This game's a combination AI manipulation, twitch reactions and plain ol' luck that leads to great elation whenever a K.O. is landed.
Verdict: Yeah, using the version without the genuine bad guy Mike Tyson is a good call. Keep it.

Startropics (1990, Nintendo Integrated Research & Development)
Oh hey, both Genyo Takeda games are next to each other on the list. This is a game that is rather uneven in level design and mechanics, yet has so much personality and charm to its art, sound and writing that it's hard not to smile when playing. A great title to teach people that although it tries teo hide in its own bubble, even Nintendo is still secretly ANIME as hell.
Verdict: Radicola. Keep it.

Super Contra (1988, Konami)
 Yeah, I like this one more than the first too. Still don't think 8-bit hardware has the right sort of impact in audio/visual capacity to really give a run 'n gun game that fluid, visceral feel the genre is at its best when delivering.
Verdict: Enjoyable game with noticable influence. Keep it.

 Super Mario Bros. (1985, Nintendo R&D4)
Yeah, no thanks.
Verdict: Scrap it.
Replace with: Gyromite (1985, Nintendo R&D1)
Let's celebrate the true hero of 1985, the big expensive peripheral that snuck games consoles back into American stores!

Super Mario Bros. 2 (1986, Nintendo R&D4 / 1988, Nintendo R&D4)
I'm just going to assume this is the latter option, the reskinned and slightly redesigned Doki Doki Panic. For the sake of legacy, fair enough to keep it. In this post-Mario Maker world in which we live, I would like to see the original SMB2, which is essentially the world's first SMB Romhack so children can again be tormented by flying squid.
Verdict: True champs always pick Toad. Keep it.

Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988, Nintendo R&D4)
I do not like this game. In an era when Konami, Capcom, Tecmo, Sunsoft and so on were all developing ways to subtly communicate and educate players through tight level design and mechanics, this game is just a spoiled child with too many toys. Almost every level in SMB3 has  a new idea, but instead of actually fleshing it out to be a satisfying experience it instead immediately throws it out to show the next. Even the non-leaf items fall victim to this. But at least it has the Mario Bros. two player squabbles over lives.
Verdict: Play for yourself and see why I dislike it. Nintendo's sure as hell not pulling out it. Keep it.

Tecmo Bowl (1989, Tecmo)
Sorry Tecmo, but you're not beating that.
Verdict: Nintendo playing to the American market, which has over ten times the population of the nation I live in. Too bad there's no Windjammers on the NES.

The Legend of Zelda (1986, Nintendo R&D4)
The game that Nintendo wouldn't release  a successor to until 2017.
Verdict: ITS  A  SECRET  TO  EVERYBODY. Keep it.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1987, Nintendo R&D4)
And so we end this list with a game that as I mentioned earlier, makes including Simon's Quest a redundant call. I've always preferred the term Exploratory Platformer when discussing the genre that encompasses Metroid, La-Mulana, Aquaria, Momdora 2 and 4, Koji Igarashi's Castlevania entries and this game rather than Metroidvania because seriously, look at the dang release year. The fact that people didn't decide to dub the genre MetroideldaII is probably reason enough to have this experimental title on the Mini NES. People simply don't know that the sequel to a an open-world Tower of Druaga-ish game was a platformer with EXP, levels, magic powers and an incorrectly localised joke giving us the wonderful YOU  KNOW  BAGU?  YOU  MAY  PASS
Verdict: Please learn from this game. Keep it.


  1. Is that SMB entry sarcasm by any chance?

  2. Pretty good post there, Mario hatred notwithstanding. Will there be the option to download new games to the thing, do you think?

    1. They stated you can bring over NES games loaded to Wii remotes. That's nice, though IIRC Little Samson never had a Virtual Console release so... RIP.

      I don't hate SMB1, 2j and 2. It's just 3 I hold disdain for. Opted for a joke entry with SMB1 because you'd be mad not to include it.

  3. Some interesting perspectives here - I think you don't quite go far enough with the arcade-port bashing, to be honest. If you wanted a sub-arcade version of Pac-Man then there are a million and one versions out there already, after all.

    I'll have to take issue with your Tetris assessment, though: while it's probably still worth including, the truly definitive old-school Tetris edition will always be the Game Boy version.

    1. Chalk up my lack of fervour towards Pac-man being that it was 1am on the night before a certain convention and I'd run out of energy.

      Besides, if you put Pac-man on a Mini NES, you know what you get to put on the Mini SNES?

      Pac-man 2.

  4. So, UG 2017 will be run entirely on a Mini NES right?