The Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) turns 25!

October 18, 1985, the NES was first released in the United States. $249 got you the control deck, two standard controllers, a light gun zapper, a Robotic Operating Buddy (ROB – I’m STILL not sure what it was supposed to be used for), and the games Gyromite and Duck Hunt. Contrary to popular belief, Super Mario Bros was NOT the first NES game - it would not get released until the following year. The system was initially launched with 15 additional games available (all of which came in those black, starry boxes), and by this time next year, there’d be over 100.

At the time of release, the United States was feeling really iffy about video games. Systems like the Atari and Colecovision were getting old and stale, and games (most of which, to be honest, were crap) were not selling. Nintendo chose a new strategy to ensure their success - have a license system, so that games could not be sold by third parties unless Nintendo themselves approved the game (and collected a licensing fee). Third party companies could also only release 5 games per year, to ensure that they actually focused on quality rather than quantity. Nintendo also made some new deals with electronic and toy stores to ensure that they would get the spotlight and be properly marketed.

It worked. The NES would go on to be the best selling video game system (only to be outdone by Nintendo’s own Game Boy), and it seemed like every household in America had one sitting under their TV. Video gaming was back, and boy was it back. You never saw games like these before. Earlier generation games couldn’t even begin to compare. Super Mario Bros. Zelda. Metroid. Castlevania. Mega Man. Final Fantasy. Dragon Warrior. All of these franchises got their start on the NES.

I actually didn’t get an NES until my 8th birthday, in the Spring of 1988. My friend down the street already had one (the first NES game I ever played was Gunsmoke) and I was in love. Even my parents got in on the action (my dad was addicted to Double Dribble). For the next 10 years, I ate, breathed, and slept Nintendo (literally - I had Zelda pajamas and Nintendo Cereal System!). More games were all I wanted for my birthday and Christmas. We set up complex trading brackets among my classmates, as well as designating who would acquire which game next, to prevent overlapping (I got burned one time when I was drafted to get Double Dragon 3). Nintendo Power magazine was my Bible. Even when we went outside to play, we’d pretend we were in the middle of a Ghost & Goblins or Zelda game when running through the cemetery or woods.

Even today, 25 years later, the NES (and it’s successor, the SNES) is one of my favorite systems ever. Some of you are probably familiar with my challenge to beat every single NES game - there were 757 of them!. I’m sure there are many other dopers who have fond memories and stories to share about their NES experiences too!

My picks for the top 10 NES games ever:

  1. Final Fantasy
  2. Super Dodge Ball
  3. Super Mario Bros 3
  4. Bionic Commando
  5. Metal Gear
  6. Mike Tyson’s Punchout
  7. Dragon Warrior 4
  8. The Legend of Zelda
  9. Mega Man 2
  10. Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse

I remember playing Super Mario Bros 3 a lot. I don’t remember the year we got the NES, but I think it was maybe 88 or 89? My mom still has a picture of me and my sister high-fiving the Christmas we got it.

SMB 1 was fun, but 3 was my favorite NES game ever, of course I’ve only played maybe 2 dozen of them. We had neighbors across the street that we would always go over and play their games, and sometimes trade games, and my cousin had some cool games too.

Some of my favorites, other than the mario games.

RC Pro Am
Ninja Gaiden (was very hard when I was a kid. My cousin had it, and I couldn’t get
past the second level.)
The various Mega Man games.

In SMB 3, after the first few times I won using the warp whistles, I decided to start going through all the worlds. It’s a lot more fun that way, if you have time to play it through. Worlds 5 and 6 were my favorites.

I never remember getting a ROB, but we did have the light gun. We rarely ever played Duck Hunt though. My cousin had one of those running pads for the Olympics game.

I got my NES in October of 1985; it was on or near Halloween, so I wasn’t a launch-day owner. My mom and I had to travel out of state to buy it, as it didn’t seem to show up in Indiana until 1986.

I got the Deluxe Set, so I had ROB… he was an interesting toy, but not an interesting gaming device. The two ROB games, Gyromite and Stack Up, had special attachments which would mount on ROB’s base and hold a standard control pad. You aimed his “eyes” at the TV screen. When you played the game, you could issue commands to ROB, which would cause the screen to flash. As an example, Gyromite is a platform-type game, with red and blue pistons which move up and down at ROB’s command. The pistons can be used as an elevator, to crush enemies against the ceiling or floor, or to block passageways. If you wanted to move the red pistons, you’d issue a command to ROB to swivel, grab a gyroscope, swivel to the gyro spinner, drop the gyro and let it spin up, pick up the gyro again, swivel back to the colored platforms, and drop the gyro on the red lever, which would push the button on ROB’s control pad to then trigger the piston.

…or you could just hand the controller to a friend and play a lot more quickly.

My Commodore 128 ended up being my gaming platform of choice, and the NES ended up being put into storage by 1987 or so. I still have it, and thanks to FunCoLand sales over the years, I managed to collect about 400 of the existing titles.

My favorite theory is that R.O.B. was created to be a trojan horse.

Supposing that this was true, it was simply brilliant.

I didn’t get my NES until the summer of '90 (I had a Commodore 64 before then), but my best friend had one about a year or so before that, and we spent a ton of time playing, especially in the summers. I’d go down there at about 9 in the morning–he lived just around the corner–and stay there until 8 or 9 at night, only coming home for lunch and supper.

Baseball Stars was our favourite. If we were playing against the computer, I would hit and he would pitch/field.

The funny thing about SMB3 is that if you play the game without warping, it makes Tank World SO MUCH easier, since you will have accumulated a ton of P-Wings and Cloud Charms and can literally hop, skip and fly through the final stages with no effort at all.

I got the Power Pad for my 9th birthday. It was fun for about 2 days, and then I figured out that you can run a lot faster by kneeling down and slapping the buttons with your hands. All of the other Power Pad games sucked. The Power Glove sucked even more. If there was one flaw with the NES, it’s that most of their hardware add-ons never worked right.

Yeah I always had a ton of gear to use in the hardest parts of world 7 and 8. Seven was usually where I started dieing a bit more. There’s one side scrolling level in World 8, that would always bug me, so I’d use a P there almost every time. The one that goes really fast. I think 8-2 with the big jumps was another one.

I always saved my tanooki suits too, for just the right moment. I can still remember the songs on the various world 3 levels (that underwater theme), and level 8 scary level theme music. It was fun.

My stepdaughter L still plays the NES, and if our NES still worked consistently, it would be her favorite game system.

L is 10. The NES came out nearly 15 years before she was born. I think that says volumes about its staying power!

I never played any of the Castlevanias, DW4, Punchout, Metal Gear, Bionic Commando, or Super Dodgeball, but I’ll heartily agree with SMB3, Final Fantasy, Mega Man 2, and Zelda. My Top Ten list would also include Blaster Master, Metroid, and Tetris (yes, I know Tetris wasn’t exclusively Nintendo, but I think Nintendo deserves credit for popularizing it so widely). And on an objective basis, it wasn’t nearly as great overall as Tetris, but I’ve always personally had a soft spot for Dr. Mario.

That still leaves two more for a Top Ten… Let me think about this some more.

I had to replace my NES a few years ago. My current one is having problems. The last game I played was Xenophobe.

The original Legend Of Zelda remains a great game.

I think SMB3 really pushed the limits of what the NES could do.

I think we got our NES in 1986 or 1987, when I was in my mid-teens. I actually wasn’t really into it until Zelda came out, then I couldn’t put it down. I remember getting stuck and having to call the game counselors, and my sister stopped by Nintendo HQ in Redmond and got me the player’s guide. Then in 1989 I was at a temp agency looking for a job and they said that Nintendo had some job openings. I took a test which consisted mostly of questions about Zelda, passed it, and became a game counselor myself, a job I ended up doing for over six years. One of the best and most stressful jobs I’ve ever had. Now when I want to play a game, even though I have things like Crysis and Left 4 Dead 2 at my disposal, I almost always reach for an NES game. I just finished Metroid and Strider, and now I might tackle Crystalis.

Do tell. I’ve searched far and wide on the internet for stories of NES Game Counselors (especially for scans of those expert’s guides that were shown in The Wizard), but have come up with nothing.

According to Nintendo Power, the most called in question was “where is level 7 in Zelda 1?”

[spoiler]It’s where fairies don’t live. Fairies live in lakes. Therefore, it’s at the lake where fairies don’t live. Blow the whistle there to drain the lake and find the entrance. I figured that one out on my own. The REAL evil hidden level was level 8 in the second quest

You have to bomb the side of the mountain, but stepping into a river with your ladder. The ONLY hint in the entire game to the location is “secret is below the arrow” … one screen above there, there’s a formation of blocks that make an arrow, and by pushing one block, you could find a heart container. For the longest time, I thought the heart container was the clue it was talking about…[/spoiler]

The only time I ever called the hotline was for Castlevania 2, when I had to ask where the hell to go in order to get to the second half of the game.

You have to equip the red crystal, and duck at the cliff for about 10 seconds. The only clue in the game to tell you this is a hidden book in one of the mansions

I used to dream of being able to play NES games on the go. When I got my Game Boy Advance flash card and a homebrew emulator, I googled for the 100 top NES games. I’m not going to make a post, but here’s a link to the one I used:

ETA: And the graphics look awesome on that smaller screen, BTW. Much better than it looked on even CRTs.

The one question I got almost every single day was, “Got any codes for Tecmo Bowl?” In a typical 10-hour shift, we’d handle about 250 calls. I think my record was just over 300 one Saturday. I remember I had a groupie, this kid who was about 10 years old who’d call about once a month or so, ask for me, and just want to talk for as long as he could. The worst part of the job, I think, were adults calling in for help. We were instructed to give hints first to guide the caller a bit, then give detailed info if they wanted it. Adults normally just wanted the detailed info right off the bat, and they almost never asked nicely. But kids were awesome. You’d give them a hint and you could almost hear the light bulb appear above their heads, then they’d thank you and quickly hang up. Loved those calls.

A big problem were the game renters, who wanted to finish Lolo in two days because they had to return the game, and wanted you to walk them through every level until the game was finished. I did that for someone only one time, and only because it was really late at night and no calls were in queue. The worst game to give help on was, by far, Castlequest. Some of the levels took a lot of steps to get through, and oftentimes you’d tell the caller to write down your instructions, they said they would, then ten minutes later they’d say they just died. So they were trying to play instead of writing anything down, and you’d have to start over.

Did Nintendo expect each counselor to know every game, or did they assign games to certain counselors who would take calls for that game? I can’t imagine how much training they’d make you do if it was for more than a couple of games at a time…the Dragon Warriors and Ultimas must’ve been the worst, since they were so open-ended and there were SO MANY things you’d have to do in order to finish the game (some sequentially, others at any time).

Does the Nintendo Wii have a big catalog of NES games available for download? I gather not, because some of the old Sega games available on XBLA are frigging terrific.

Nice. Almost reason enough to buy a Wii.

So this is interesting: I decided the other day to celebrate the anniversary by firing up Super Mario Bros. (the original) on an emulator (I gave away my actual console years ago). I start it up, and I’m on level 0-1. No, not the expected 1-1, not the storied negative level, but level zero. It’s a water level, with no treasure blocks at all, and no monsters except a single easily-avoided piranha plant. About halfway through, it divides into three separate passages, and if you pick the wrong one, you get trapped in a dead-end by the lack of left-scrolling, and have to wait for time to run out. Pick the right one, and you can continue to the end of the level, where there’s a bridge with an axe, like Bowser would stand on. Hit the axe, cut the bridge, tally points, and then the game freezes.

At first we had big binders full of information and maps. Anyone who wanted to could make maps or gameplays and distribute them. In 1990 or so we started computerizing everything which made it much easier to help callers. We were still expected to play the games to at least become familiar with what they looked like, though. I stopped counting after finishing 200 games and played practically every single game to some degree. We mostly played while helping callers, and had every game available in sort of a library checkout system so we could play at home if we had to. We did have game-specific experts among us as well, so if we had trouble helping someone with a particularly hard level in, say, Castlequest, we could pass those callers off. The role-playing games, by the way, were actually pretty easy to help with back then because they were mostly linear, so you just had to ask someone if they had some key item or fought some key boss, and you’d know exactly what they had to do next.