Game Overview: 8-Bit All-Stars

Insert another credit, because it’s time for your weekly video game news and you’ve just hit the Game Overview screen.

Due to some poor life decisions, I find myself stranded for five weeks without any video games. What’s a guy to do, right? Well, rather than just giving you some of the headlines from the week’s video game news in lieu of what I was planning to be gameplay impressions, reviews, and the like, I’m gonna start a five week “All-Stars” feature. Each week we’re going to look at a video game era and spotlight my top three games from that era. Each of these games will also receive a place setting at the prestigious “Table of Honor” feature that I’m working on. Here’s the weekly plan:

Week 1: 8-bit Console Era
Week 2: 16-bit Console Era
Week 3: Post-16-bit Console Era, Pre-Current Generation
Week 4: Pre-Current Generation PC Games
Week 5: Current Generation

Yeah, the categories are broad, particularly weeks three and four, but it’s how I want to do them, so get off my back!

The 8-bit era. According to Wikipedia, this is the third generation of video games, and what a generation it was. You see, it technically began before my lifetime. The Nintendo Entertainment System was released in the US on 18 October 1985, just under four months before my actual date of birth. Wikipedia lists its official end at 1992, but the 16-bit systems debuted much sooner than that, with the Sega Genesis launching in the US in 1989 and the Super Nintendo hitting North American shores in 1991. It was a tumultuous time for video games, with the Video Game Crash of 1983 seemingly spelling the end for video games. Thankfully, Nintendo came along and decided to show everyone there was a new sheriff in town. Games couldn’t be officially published without the “Nintendo Seal of Quality,” limiting the crap that could just be shoveled onto the system, but that didn’t stop a huge flood of relatively crummy games from hitting the system anyway.

Of those games, I distinctly remember three stand-out games from the era, my personal top three:

Here’s a hint for the first of the three, it was damn near impossible to get anywhere in this game without: up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, b, a. That’s right, #3 on my list is the original Contra

#3 Contra

While my family didn’t technically own Contra, I still have fond memories of visits to our friend Angel’s house where we either got our collective asses handed to us by aliens (apparently? I had to look it up) in their family room or wobbling around on Angel’s super rad water bed (DISCLAIMER: I no longer find water beds super rad). There was something about Contra that other games we’d rented or played just didn’t have. The controls were tight, we had co-op two player mode to help with the levels, the guns were wicked cool, and the levels were way varied. You started side-scrolling, but then you were in quasi-3-D and, before you knew it, you were now fighting from an almost top-down perspective. It all just clicked together so seamlessly. You want proof that this game is good? I don’t think I ever made it to the third level and I still think it’s great.

I’m not even going to comment on how long I’m sure this took this dude to do, but check out this AMAZING no-death run of Contra split into two parts. It’s sure to knock your socks off.

Man, it would sure be cool to be able to destroy that guy and then steal his video game prowess…If that wasn’t as blatant a hint as to the number two game on my list, I’ll just come out and say it: Mega Man 2

#2 Mega Man 2

Take a look at that box art in the above link. Does that make any sense at all to you? It sure as heck didn’t to me as a kid. Mega Man didn’t look like a real dude and he sure as hell didn’t hold a pistol. I guess I can understand the marketing boys not wanting to put what the actual Mega Man looks like on the box, but they did it with Mario, right? I’m sure it doesn’t help that real life Mario looks way scary

Anyway, let’s talk about the gameplay a bit. Mega Man was one of my first encounters with a non-linear game. I’m pretty sure we owned a golden Legend of Zelda cartridge, but the gameplay baffled me and I can’t remember if we had it before or after we got Mega Man 2. That’s all beside the point anyway, which is: How cool is it that you get to pick which Robot Master you fight first? My personal favorite first start was to hit up Metal Man, since he was easiest to beat (Wood Man was another popular choice of mine) without any of the other powers. After that, it was kind of a crap shoot of trial and error for the non-web-enabled gamer of the late 1980s/early 1990s to know where to head next. At some point, my brother somehow found out what order you were supposed to fight them in, possibly through a strategy guide, and we were actually able to see the final sections of the game against Dr. Wily. Those were definitely a challenge and way tough, but also lots of fun to play since you had Mega Man’s full repertoire of weapons at your disposal. Here’s another game that I don’t remember ever beating, although I do remember fighting a dragon for some odd reason or another. All in all though, a tight gaming experience with a creative mechanic to me at the time. Stealing powers and knowing that they were strong against another guy, just brilliant. I do have one thing to say though, I’ll be god damned if ever beat Quick Man. Those beams of energy were way cheap…

Below is some dude’s tribute to Mega Man 2

Man oh man, what could possibly be the best of 3 on a system like the NES. Which game could be first on my list, but 3rd at the same time? Ok, ok, enough lame hints, you probably already know I’m talking about Super Mario Bros. 3.

#1 Super Mario Bros. 3

SMB3 is, and always will be, as close as you can get to perfection embodied in 2-D platformer. Just about the only criticism I can come up with, and only after wracking my brain, is that the myriad of suits are sometimes very situational and there aren’t enough opportunities to get the cool ones like the Tanooki, Hammer Bros., or Frog Suit. Other than that, Shigeru Miyamoto proved not only that lightning can strike the same place twice, but that it can strike the same place twice more awesomely than the last two times it did. The innovative map screen was incredible, the tiny details, like sliding down hills, were intricately placed, you could fly, you could store power-ups, and you still retained some of the most vital Mario abilities, like warping from world to world.

My vivid memories of Mario 3, again at Angel’s house or rented, really just highlight how absolutely incredible the game was. I still, to this day, think of those days as a kid playing SMB3 when I see that opening red curtain. I still remember those days when I play the Mario Brothers mini-game. I still remember that time in my life when I see the opening to the first level. Having never actually owned the game and due to the lack of a battery backup system in the original cartridge, I never did beat the game way back in the day. I did, however, get a chance to come back to it with the release of the Game Boy Advance SP. The Christmas of my junior year of high school, there was a bundle available for Christmas: Buy the Game Boy Advance SP, get Super Mario Advance 4: Super Mario Bros. 3 bundled in and a rebate for headphones. I’d been wanting to pick up a GBA SP for a while at that point, since it featured a backlight, which all original GBA owners know the system DESPERATELY needed, and bundling in SMB3 made it a no-brainer. I resolved to never use a warp whistle and to play every single level available, regardless of whether or not I had to in order to reach the castle. It was beyond rewarding to finally finish it about 10 years after I started it.

This game is definitely tough, but I guarantee you that if you play through the entire thing, you will know what it is to have fun playing a video game. There’s no complicated camera, no objective set other than reach the end and basically almost no plot at all, and no maneuvers more complicated than maybe holding a direction and another button down, but in this way we see what it is to truly have fun with a game. Playing SMB3 I feel like I really do understand what Miyamoto talks about when he goes off about how games are too complicated nowadays and how we should refocus on what makes a game fun.

For more video game video fun, check out this speed clear of SMB3:

There you have it, my top three games of the 8-bit era. Many of you might be complaining about the lack of Sega Master System games (or anything outside of NES games), but, truth be told, I’ve never even touched a Sega Master System, much less played or even seen one in real life. I can’t have a favorite game I’ve never played, can I? Tune in next week to see my favorites of the 16-bit era. This time I’ll be able to include Sega games (will any make it?) and we’ll see games that are far more complex in almost every respect than their ancestors.

A few words on what will become my “Table of Honor” page. Basically, it’s a Hall of Fame page for the best examples of just about any category I talk about on this blog, including video games, music, movies, technology, and books. Once I finally debut this feature, I’ll be sure to post something about it.


17 responses to “Game Overview: 8-Bit All-Stars”

  1. Eric Avatar

    First of all, masterful – I think this is your best and funniest prose thus far. Second, I always considered 8bit 1st gen based on the fact that it was first in my life and that it was the first after the video game crash and the takeover of the genre by the Japanese game makers.

    Contra – I loved that game. Playing it Angel’s house is still a key childhood memory for me. I think what I loved the most was the 2 players at once – something that was a rarity back then – most of the games were one at a time. In fact, that’s what I also loved about Toe Jam and Earl – I wonder if you were planning to mention that.

    Megaman – about the cover – I think that’s an extension of what I’ve read about 8bit and prior games where the cover would depict this awesome scene and the game totally didn’t even look like that. In fact, until about generation n-1 the game rarely looked as good as the covers or magazine ads. I also loved the non-linearity although I don’t think I knew it consciously back then.

    What I loved about SMB3 was the fact that, for the first time in a Mario game (and the first time in any game I’d played up to that time) you didn’t have to beat all the levels if you didn’t want to. You could choose to beat every level and be an SMB3 master or you could take the most direct route possible to the end. And, of course, your decisions might be changed by the hammer bros or other guys getting in your way. Also, I loved betting against Toad for different suits. I loved the frog suit so much! I also loved the Tanooki Mario which we thought was a bear. It wasn’t until about a year ago or so that I even understood what a Tanooki was!

  2. Dan Avatar

    Sadly, as fun as Toe Jam and Earl was back in the day, it doesn’t quite make the cut on my 16-bit shortlist. In fact, only one Sega Genesis game manages to make the cut.

    There’s also the factor that in the US they had a bit of anime-phobia with their products, instead putting stuff like the MM2 box art out there to attract US gamers.

    I’m pretty sure that the Japanese Tanooki Mario didn’t have huge testicles like the creature of lore, but I just don’t think I could have wrapped my mind around the concept of a tanooki as a kid…

  3. Eric Mesa Avatar

    Interestingly enough, there was a recent Ranma episode I saw that featured a Tanooki

  4. […] Week 1: 8-bit Console Era Week 2: 16-bit Console Era Week 3: Post-16-bit Console Era, Pre-Current Generation Week 4: Pre-Current Generation PC Games Week 5: Current Generation […]

  5. […] Week 1: 8-bit Console Era Week 2: 16-bit Console Era Week 3: Post-16-bit Console Era, Pre-Current Generation Week 4: Pre-Current Generation PC Games Week 5: Current Generation […]

  6. […] Week 1: 8-bit Console Era Week 2: 16-bit Console Era Week 3: Post-16-bit Console Era, Pre-Current Generation Week 4: Pre-Current Generation PC Games Week 5: Current Generation […]

  7. […] Week 1: 8-bit Console Era Week 2: 16-bit Console Era Week 3: Post-16-bit Console Era, Pre-Current Generation Week 4: Pre-Current Generation PC Games Week 5: Current Generation […]

  8. […] you read my 8-bit All-Stars feature you know I love me some Mega Man 2. There was just something sublimely perfect about that […]

  9. […] you remember back to my 8-Bit All-Stars post, you might remember me talking about the Mega Man 2 boxart as being nonsensical for the […]

  10. AlexM Avatar

    Your blog is interesting!

    Keep up the good work!

  11. […] back when I wrote about my favorite 8-bit era games? Well the next day I wrote about a runner-up, the classic Bubble Bobble. Astute readers may […]

  12. Eric Mesa Avatar

    The Contra 3 part reminds me of how Tim Rogers always mentions that people have fond memories of Super Mario 1 even though most of them never beat it. Wonder if you had come across him and this sentiment at this time?

    Did anything ever come of the table of honor?

    1. Dan Avatar

      I’m pretty sure I had read that once before in his work by then, but I can’t be absolutely sure.

      I thought about making the table of honor when I was working on my Features page…kind of don’t think it’s such a hot idea now, haha, but we’ll see if I ever try to photoshop something together.

      1. Eric Mesa Avatar

        Was it going to be an image? I thought it was just going to be a list. Like a one-page summary of all your top 3s.

        1. Dan Avatar

          I’d always planned it to be an image. A one-page summary seems boring. The whole metaphor I had planned doesn’t seem very interesting anyway. Probably best to just leave it like this.

  13. Eric Mesa Avatar

    The seal of quality part reminded me of those religious games we played when we were little that def did not have the seal of quality.

    1. Dan Avatar

      That Noah’s Ark game was fun.

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