Wednesday, November 24, 2010

5 Great NES Arcade Ports

It's true that there were many, many unsatisfying arcade translations released for the NES (we recently talked about a few of them), but it's also true that there were several stellar ones. In an era where the 'arcade quality' experience was the gold standard, few arcade translations actually reached that lofty goal. Here are some instances where game designers rose to the challenge of meeting (and occasionally exceeding) gamers' expectations.


Originally released in 1985, the arcade version of Gun.Smoke (spelled with a period to distinguish it from the television series of the same name) was a frantic, vertical scrolling shooter with a western theme. Gameplay was similar to other vertical shooters of the time; (e.g. Commando, Ikari Warriors) players single handedly fought their way through waves of enemies, eventually meeting and dispatching a unique and colorful boss character at the end of each stage.

The NES version might have been a little shorter (6 stages instead of 10), but in all of the most important ways it stands toe to toe with its arcade counterpart. The tense action and tight controls of the original are faithfully reproduced, and minor downgrades in the graphics and sound don't hamper what is otherwise a very accurate translation. The creators even added to the original design by including special weapons (like the shotgun and magnum) which provide an additional layer of strategy not present in the arcade version. Should you decide to give this classic a try, I recommend using a turbo controller...this game is punishingly difficult, even with rapid fire!


Bionic Commando belongs to rather common category of NES arcade ports in that it retained many of the aspects that made it an arcade success, yet was altered enough so as to be a fairly different game overall. Bionic Commando, however, sets itself apart from the others in the quality and inspiration of its re-envisioning. The arcade original introduced us to the protagonist Radd Spencer, a super soldier with a bionic arm that allows him to swing from platform to platform. With only 4 levels, the original was fairly short yet exceedingly difficult. The controls were laggy and often times the player was forced to make leaps of faith, swinging headlong into enemy fire or other obstacles. Still, the bionic arm created an intriguing gameplay mechanic. By taking away the ability to jump, players were forced to consider the timing and trajectory of their swings in order to progress through the levels. For the NES version, the game was greatly expanded. Featuring 19 different levels, improved controls, and a new storyline involving the resurrection of a certain well known real world dictator, Capcom took the most interesting concept (the bionic arm) and injected it into a more polished, more engaging, re-imagining of the arcade original.


Ah, good old Contra. Everyone's played it, everyone's beaten it, and EVERYONE knows the code for 30 lives. What many people might not know is that the NES version is in fact a very faithful arcade adaptation. With a few minor exceptions, every level, boss, and power-up from the original is present in this NES translation. In addition, the designers tweaked the controls and made character movement much tighter and less 'floaty' than the arcade version.


Ninja Gaiden is one of those rarest of NES arcade ports in that it is both NOTHING like the arcade original yet somehow manages to be BETTER. The arcade version was a side scrolling, quarter munching beat-'em-up in the vein of Double Dragon or Final Fight. It had its moments, but it was really sort of generic. For the NES version, developer Tecmo started from scratch and achieved brilliant results. Playing (and looking) more like Castlevania than anything else, the NES version introduced many 80's gamers to the concept of cinematics. At the end of each level, a series of graphically-rich, animated cutscenes told the intriguing tale of hero Ryu Hayabusa and his quest to defeat Jaquio and halt the resurrection of a great demon. Though this game is somewhat infamous for its incredibly difficult final stage, this remains one of the finest games ever to grace the NES.


You might think it a little cheap of me to put the ubiquitous Super Mario Bros. on this list, but if you were around in '85 you know that this game was a HUGE success in the arcades. The virtually identical console version was released a short while later as a NES launch title and it almost singlehandedly ended the video game crash of 1983. Though much has been written about this game over the years, its impact on the industry simply cannot be overstated. A highly playable, and incredibly influential arcade classic that showed us that (even back in '85) you really could have the arcade experience at home.

As an honorable mention, I'd also like to bring up 'Mike Tyson's Punch Out!'. While graphically inferior to the arcade version, the incredible timing-based gameplay remained intact in the NES version. Making your way to the final showdown with Mike Tyson remains a feat that any gamer can be proud of.... a feat that I myself was never able to accomplish!

What say you? What were some of your favorite NES arcade translations?

No comments:

Post a Comment