Happy 25th Birthday, Nintendo Entertainment System!

10/16/2010 at 5:07 PM

The twenty-fifth anniversary of a major milestone in gaming history is coming next Monday, October 18, 2010.  It was on that day, a quarter century ago, when the Nintendo Entertainment System was first released in North America.  That first holiday shopping season back in 1985, the NES, bundled with the Zapper Lightgun and unique R.O.B. peripheral, was only marketed in New York City.  Sales were only moderately successful, but one thing was clear: Nintendo's console was just the thing to revive the video game industry after the crash of 1983.

To celebrate the launch of what many (including myself) consider the greatest video game system of all time, I asked the Co-Optimus staff to share their memories of the NES.  We will then take a look at the Top 5 greatest cooperative experiences the original Nintendo had to offer.

Andrew

"My earliest co-op memory (if you could call it that) was playing Super Mario Brothers, and having to take turns playing.  I know it really wasn't co-op, kind of more competitive, but it enabled social gaming as your siblings and friends shouted encouragement or disdain.  There were a couple of games I would play with my friend down the street where we would take turns, exchanging the controller after we had 'lost a guy'.  I remember doing this with Rygar and Kung-fu, in particular."

An interesting fact about Super Mario Bros. was that it was not one of the NES launch titles.  Those honors belonged to such "timeless classics" as Gyromite, Clu Clu Land, and Donkey Kong Jr. Math, the latter of which I purchased via Wiiware in a moment of inexplicable insanity.  Of course, you also could buy Excitebike and Hogan's Alley on day one, so that pretty much made up for it.

Nick

"I just remember playing a lot of games like Battletoads, Double Dragon, Gauntlet, and Contra.  Contra is probably my fondest memory - showing off to family and friends the 30 lives code and then proceeding to still up run out. Don't forget folks - for co-op you need to press SELECT START! ;)"

Indeed, the classic Konami code was one of the most fondly remembered things about the NES era.  Another random bit of trivia: the original Double Dragon port for the NES didn't include co-op!  Later titles in the series did, so you and a buddy could beat up on thugs together at the same time, thank Billy.

Jim

"The Nintendo Entertainment System was my first video game system, one that I shared with my brother. My father bought it for us several years after the family split, knowing that my mother did not explicitly support our growing video game enthusiasm (developed by playing at friends' houses).

For the most part we were still attached to outdoor activities like riding bicycles, swimming at the community pool, playing baseball, and walking to the corner store for a Coke. But our evenings generally consisted of falling asleep to The Howard Stern Show and reruns of The Jeffersons. If we were especially jittery, our attention would turn to the trusty NES and a small library of two-player games.

Southern New Jersey being the farm land that it is, you can expect to see a lot of "farmer's markets". Back in the late 1980's, that was the place to find hundreds of cheap NES games and audio cassette tapes. We procured most of our classic favorites - like Jackal, Blades of Steel, Double Dragon II, Baseball, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 3: The Manhattan Project - in barns converted to flea market booths.

I still have our NES, and both controllers, and both NES Zappers, and most of the games that we enjoyed as kids. All it takes is a can of compressed air to get the dust out, and a hard slap on the top - near the back - to get it booted."

  Jim wasn't the only staff member who recalled the miraculous healing power of blowing on the cartridge or the loading slot.  Anytime a game didn't work right, that was the first thing to try.  I suppose it was the 80s precursor to wrapping a red-ringed Xbox 360 in a towel.    Sam "I grew up in Blighty were we shunned the NES in favour of the far superior ZX Spectrum - now that was a computer."   Goofy European!  I actually had to look up what "Blighty" meant.  Sam is referring to his native Great Britain.  As he points out, Nintendo's console wasn't the market dominator in Europe that it was in North America and Japan (where it was known as the Famicom).  The ZX Spectrum was one of the earliest home computers in Europe, which may have been one reason why the NES never caught on there.  Sega's Master System, an also-ran here in the United States, was also quite popular in "Blighty".   My own recollections of the Nintendo Entertainment system have been covered in Co-Op Classics before, but I will share a few memories.  I remember playing Top Gun and Castlevania at a friend's house in 1987, and asking for an NES for Christmas.  Unfortunately, we got an Atari 2600 Jr. instead.  It wasn't until the summer of 1989 that we finally got one.  My favorite titles were Final Fantasy, Metroid, Dragon Warrior, and of course, Contra.  Though I have a copy of every other Nintendo console in my collection, and most of the handhelds, my original NES is long gone.  With all this nostalgia about the system running through my brain right now, I'm sure it won't be long before I manage to track one down at the right price.   Without further delay, we present Co-Optimus' Official Top 5 Co-Op Games for the Nintendo Entertainment System.  Since this is an editorial, the list is entirely based on my own opinions.  Are we forgetting your favorite?  Do I have the order all wrong?  Let us know!         5.  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project   The first TMNT game for the NES was single player only, which was frustrating enough.  Add in the fact that it was horrendously difficult, even for the very challenging standards of the time, and it left a bad feeling in your mouth.  The second Turtles title was a port of the first TMNT arcade game, and a bad one, at that.  The Manhattan Project had the same gameplay as it's predecessor, but it was an original story, and thus you were not constantly reminded you weren't playing a shoddy port of a superior arcade title.        4. Life Force   Konami made some of the best games for the NES, and the Gradius series was among the finest of them.  Life Force took everything that was good about Gradius and added in 2 player co-op.  The power bar was one of many innovations that were mimicked by many other shooters that followed.  Swapping from horizontal to vertical scrolling mixed the action up nicely, as did the creepy graphics.  Best of all, the Konami code worked here, giving you a full 30 lives.  Trust me, you needed it.       3.  River City Ransom   I already covered this game for Co-Op Classics, but it still deserves more praise.  The brilliant twist of combining RPG style statistics into the established brawler genre was quite influential; today, we see stats in all sorts of games, from FPS to sports sims.  The recent videogame based on Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World is a pure homage to River City Ransom.  One more thing: "BARF!"       2. Battletoads   This game is legendary for its extreme difficulty.  On the surface, it appears to be no more than a Ninja Turtles ripoff, but once you play the game, you'll know who the real anthropomorphoid heroes of co-op brawling are.  Acclaimed developer Rare definitely put all they had into it; Battletoads is perhaps the best looking NES game ever, from a graphics standpoint.  Though it came out late in the lifespan of the NES, Battletoads definitely gave gamers a reason to delay switching to the Genesis or Super Nintendo.       1. Contra   This game truly had it all.  Musclebound heroes with all manner of weapons, from lasers to flamethrowers.  An intense jungle setting with an alien base crawling with bad guys intent on killing you.  And best of all, it was one of the earliest two player co-op titles.  One little known fact about Contra is that it was a port of an arcade game.  The removal of a level selection map was balanced by the lengthening of most of the games levels.  A brilliant game, Contra went on to spawn an impressive number of sequels over more than twenty years.  This game is the first cooperative gameplay experience I can remember in my own gaming lifetime, and it's very much deserving of the number one slot in this list.  Read more about Contra in this early Co-Op Classics article.