In its heyday there were over 760 titles released in the US and PAL regions for the Nintendo Entertainment System, also referred to as the NES. Many of these games are absolute classics that to this day remain nostalgic keystones in people’s childhoods. Who can forget the first time they hopped on a Goomba in Super Mario Bros., gunned their way through the jungle in Contra or blasted Mother Brain in Metroid? These games, while some not so heavy on story, were crafted in such a way that it didn’t matter that we only had two buttons and a d-pad. We had strongly defined characters in engrossing new worlds with clear elements of mystery and adventure to overcome.
This is a list of some of those games, games where the premise is so strange and the mechanics so unnatural that they’ve either become instant blockbusters or cult classics. Of course, some of the games on this list are just plain bad, but to be fair have to be represented. I also chose not to use any games that were specifically designed for the arcade or that were not released in the United States.
So with that out of the way let’s get started easy with…
10. CRASH ‘N THE BOYS: STREET CHALLENGE (1992)
What seemed to be an innocuous track and field type of game, Crash ‘n the Boys suffered from what I like to call the “early 90’s edginess factor”. This game is like the NBA Street of the track world, throwing in locales such as dirty rooftops and graffiti bombed hurdle courses. Now this in and of itself is not that weird of a concept as plenty of games in the 90’s were trying to re-invent old genres with a “hip vibe” or whatever they thought the youth were into at the time. The strangeness comes from the story that was supposed to coalesce these characters into such a setting, i.e. out of the stadium and into the streets.
Jeff “Crash” Cooney is a star athlete and leader of the Southside Boys, who led his team to victory over the rich snobs of the Hills in the latest All-City Track Meet. The leader of the rich boys is Todd Thornley III, the son of the owner of Thornley Industries Worldwide, Mr. Thornley. A very unforgiving man, Mr. Thornley is quick to scold young Todd and create an ultimatum: Win or die. He’s gonna kill his kid over a track meet? Who does that?! Todd swears vengeance in the form of an unregulated track meet and due to the scheming of Mr. Thornley’s assistant Mr. Lee, he will have a team of “super atheletes” culled from the ranks of the corporation’s “over 900,000” employees. This vengeance will all be served of course Super Dodgeball style in events such as Roof-Jumping, Hammer throwing, swimming and of course “Fighting Scene”.
Now, I understand the need to create clear cut villains in a game so the player identifies more with the protagonist, but seriously! This is a TRACK AND FIELD GAME, why do I care about any of these people?! They could have just launched me straight to the title screen and then to the event menu; why in heaven’s name did they need to embellish on a story that will clearly have no conclusion? There is no story mode, you just randomly pick events to play and then when you’re finished you go back to the menu.
9. KID KLOWN IN NIGHT MAYOR WORLD (1993)
Go ahead, I dare you to come to any reasonable conclusion as to why there is a clown boy jumping through the forest fighting spiders with balloons. Forget the fact that by the extra life description, you are actually playing as multiple people that all look the same and the fact that they labeled strawberries as ‘chips’. Forget all of that and listen to the premise of this odd title.
Kid Klown and his freaky clown family are on their way to the circus when this very obviously evil man dressed in brown clothes comes up and asks the Kid to open a magical treasure vault for him. Saying no, he decides to blackmail you into doing it by abducting your family and telling Kid Klown to “come to my castle if you want your family back!”
So, of course, using your mighty clown logic you decide to go, not knowing of course that he will sling a million monsters and enemies your way! Why in the name of Marcel Marceau would you try your absolute damndest to murder the only person (in the world apparently) who can open your evil treasure chest? This story was a clear result of getting lost in Circus Circus on too much LSD.
Seriously though, this game is relentlessly awful and only the most masochistic are going to want to put themselves through the pain and suffering involved with an entire run-through.
8. A BOY AND HIS BLOB: TROUBLE ON BLOBOLONIA (1989)
From the first screen you see (the title card blatantly ripping off Indiana Jones), A Boy and his Blob remains to this day one of the weirdest games I’ve ever played in my long tenure as a gamer. Right away you are plopped onto a dark street with a bouncing, smiling amorphous white mass that follows you around everywhere you go. No opening story, no narration boxes, just you and your reeling imagination trying to come up with a rational explanation for what you are seeing.
As a kid I had bought this game secondhand and therefore never had the manual to decipher the storyline, always imagining an ET type scenario where you had to get this gooey snowman looking alien back to his planet or whatever.
Thank goodness for Wikipedia:
“A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia is a side-scrolling platformer in which the character and his friend Blob (full name Blobert) travel together on Earth and on Blobert’s home planet Blobolonia in a quest to defeat an evil emperor.”
Blobert? Okay maybe I was better off not knowing. The really strange part is the fact that, in order to overcome the poorly illustrated obstacles that litter the game, you’ve got to feed this bag of snot jelly beans in order to turn him into ladders, rockets, holes and whatever else seems to be the solution to the specific problem you’re facing. The issue: You have no clue what these jelly beans do to him until you throw them in his gaping maw! There are no descriptions! Some of these you only have a couple of, so when you toss them in his pie-hole and find out that’s not the one you need, well sorry pal but you’re out of luck a half an hour later when you finally do need it.
7. ZOMBIE NATION (1990)
Once again I want to start you off with an image that will leave you with the same feeling of confusion-infused brain goo rolling around in your skull. Zombie Nation defies the usual norms of game construction and story development by making you a giant floating Kabuki head.
As per the opening sequence:
“In 1999 what appeared to be a harmless meteorite crashing into the Nevada desert had turned out to be Darc Seed, an evil alien creature with horrible powers. By shooting strage [sic] magnetic rays, Darc Seed had turned the helpless nation into zombies and had brought the Statue of Liberty to life to do his dirty work (WHAT?). These rays had also given him control over many deadly weapons, but none were more powerful than the legendary samurai sword, Shura. When the great head of the samurai, Nakamubi, heard that the sword had fallen into evil hands he set off immediately for the United States. For only he possessed the strength and knowledge needed to recapture the magical swords and free the U.S. from the evil clutches of Darc Seed.”
Knowing this, one would think that, even if you are a floating samurai ghost head, your mission has been clearly stated as one of rescue and daring heroism. No. Why would that be the case? Instead you are a rampaging ghoul with the visage of Ben Franklin that goes around destroying the ever-living bejeesus out of New York City.
Your character is such an antagonis that not only is the Army attacking you, but even the citizens are firing at you from rooftops to keep you at bay! Now, I tried to get far enough into this game to see if there is any narrative changes but the sheer enemy count and abusive level design kept putting me out of commission, and you only get one life!
6. BATTLETOADS (1991)
You must have known this was going to show up sooner or later. Battletoads is a bit more well known of a game than the others so far on the list, but that doesn’t mean the developers didn’t ratchet up the weird level well past Rip Taylor (just underneath Dennis Rodman in a wedding dress, though).
Battletoads is a side-scrolling beat ‘em up along the lines of Double Dragon and was made during the height of the whole Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle anthropomorphic animal craze just like Samurai Pizza Cats, Cowboys of Moo Mesa and Biker Mice from Mars. I can only imagine the sales pitch to Tradewest: “Okay Ron, you know how your kids are always blabbering on about those fighting turtles? Well get this: Space Toad Bikers from the Future, and they all have nasty names like Rash, Zitz and Pimple! I haven’t worked all that much on the title yet, but what do you think?” … “Genius! Begin production immediately!”
The enemies in this game range from giant pig men and robots to the more innocuous, such as rats and crows. It’s a pretty fun game if you’ve got a friend who is into masochism as well, but the real horror is in the third level during the infamous hover-bike sequence. Congratulations to you, if you can manage to beat that sadistic track with two people while sharing your continues.