Top Gun

Ahhh, the 80’s. Great action flicks and short, but difficult video games.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this site in various reviews, Nintendo games usually had a tough learning curve. Sometimes the games were outright bugged and unbeatable, while other times the developers made increasingly hard to beat.

I think Top Gun is a mix of both worlds.

The first level seems like cake. The objective is simple: fly missions loosely based on the Tom Cruise movie of the same name, shooting down enemies before they shoot you.

The premise is simple. The presentation, flying first-person in a cockpit, is actually top notch for 1987.

The rest of the game is a frustrating mess!

As you may have guessed, once you beat the first level, the second one increases in difficulty. I remember there are bosses and whatnot, but geez if this game doesn’t get under your skin: including a necessary refueling in mid-air and a landing on an aircraft carrier – both of which can be stupidly frustrating to execute…

Especially since you only have three lives for the entire game.

Of course, there’s only four levels, but finding that out can be a challenge in and of itself. Top Gun harkens back to a time where you parted with your hard-earned money and expected to be challenged much in the same way arcade games did.

This day and age, if you blew through four levels of a game, you’d feel cheated.

Back in 1987? Top Gun became one of the highest selling games of its time – and even garnered a sequel!

The game is fun for nostalgic purposes and a fun challenge. Just be forewarned that you may feel compelled to hurl a controller at your TV screen!


Now here’s a classic for you 8-bit Nintendo gamers!

I’ll never forget holding this game in my hands for the first time. The shrink-wrapped silver box with a spaceman-of-sorts ready to fire an arm cannon at aliens.

Metroid captured the imagination of the era, which included Sigourney Weaver’s Alien movies. Little did us gamers know that Metroid captured a bit too well, that is, until you saw one of the secret endings or used the infamous “JUSTIN BAILEY” code on the password screen.

Either would reveal that the game’s protagonist, Samus Aran, is a female – a pretty shocking (and cool) revelation at a time when such information was rarely spoiled for gamers.

Metroid (and Konami’s Castlevania) would be so iconic and groundbreaking that the term “Metroidvania” would be coined for a genre of games with a similar premise: unlocking new areas by gaining new items/powers, often which requiring a lot of backtracking throughout the game.

But that wasn’t all that made Metroid unique. Most games of the time scrolled sideways, but Metroid did that and had vertical sprawl to it. You would often have to fall down, or scale, large corridors to get to the next section of the game.

With the exception of requiring certain items to get to certain locations, the game was also open-ended; meaning you could choose to go just about anywhere you wanted. (Though doing so might get you instantly killed if Samus wasn’t adequately equipped!)

The premise of the game is that Space Pirates stole an parasitic organism known as a “Metroid” and planned to replicate them as biological weapons.

Samus is actually a bounty hunter, tasked with hunting down the pirates and their leader, the Mother Brain.

The sci-fi overtones, fleshed out storyline, unique graphical areas, and new open-ended adventure made Metroid stand apart, but that’s not all it was known for. Samus was the first character to “spin jump”, curling into a ball mid-jump, in a video game: something taken for granted now but totally new to gamers in 1987.

There are so many good things I can say about this game, but in summation: combined it made for a helluva action/adventure game that still has a cult following to this day. Not only did it launch an entire series, but it launched an entire gaming genre.

If you haven’t played it, or any of its sequels, you’re doing yourself a disservice.

Even with 8-bit graphics, the original Metroid still stands tall as a game that is as accessible and replayable as any to this day.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Welcome to the bastard child of all Zelda games!

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link follows an odd NES pattern of changing up the sequels of Nintendo’s main franchises. Super Mario Bros. 2, for example, was a large departure from the original (at least the United States version was). Yet, SMB2 was just a rehash of another Japanese game with Mario concepts painted over it.

Zelda 2 was… something else.

As one of the only true sequels to the Zelda storyline, the game introduced now-common elements such as the magic meter and “Shadow Link”, but also introduced something else: shear stupid difficulty and a radically different style of gameplay!

As opposed to the original Legend of Zelda, which had a top-down world map and each screen served as an “area” on the map, Zelda 2 when to a side-scrolling adventure for all of the action sequences, only using the top-down map to get from area to area. Those areas included various towns, palaces, caves and more.

This is where the game becomes the devil. Link’s sword is like this itty bitty thing that can barely inflict damage on anything. Jumping is wonky (putting it kindly) and will lead to many deaths too.

Actually, the only cool aspect of jumping is the downward thrust with the sword, which is hard to believe but was something groundbreaking way back then.

The game also had more RPG-centric elements such as leveling up. In fact, many would say this game felt more like a Castlevania game than Zelda, and that much is true. However, like other Zelda titles, certain items and quests were commonplace in order to progress throughout the world to meet your final goal of awaking a sleeping Princess Zelda who is under a spell.

As you finally make your way to the Great Palace, the game features one of the biggest PITA villains in all of 8-bit lore: Thunderbird.

I can’t tell you how many times I died trying to defeat this thing as a kid. And of course, once you do, you are then in a toe-to-toe fight with a tough “Shadow Link” (or “Dark Link” depending on who you talk to.)

The reward for beating Shadow Link is the third Triforce, the Triforce of Courage, which is also a new element added to Zelda 2. (Its predecessor featured only the Triforce of Wisdom and of Power, the latter wielded by Ganon.)

The three Triforces would become a common theme throughout Zelda game, reinforcing the “tri” part of the name.

While this game is an oddity among all Zelda titles, and it’s a major B**** to beat, its also a must play for hardcore Zelda fans due to being a drastically different game that also introduces many hallmarks of the franchise.

I do recommend it, but also be forewarned: you may need backup controllers as you’ll tend to break at least one in frustration playing this!

Fighting Street (aka Street Fighter)

Have you ever given any thought as to why you never hear much about the original Street Fighter?

I hadn’t, until the game was recently included as part of anniversary editions issued by Capcom, featuring the umpteen editions of Street Fighter II.

That got me to thinking: where the heck is Street Fighter “1”? It’s nearly buried in history, but the very company which created it… and now I understand why.

The original, as with the many sequels, originated as an arcade game and was only ported to one console in the United States: the nearly unknown CD add-on for the almost as unknown TurboGrafx 16. Thus, American gamers never really experienced the original game of the Street Fighter franchise, that is, until it was re-released for the Wii Virtual Console as a TurboGrafx port in 2009.

That’s the version I got my hands on, but for all intents and purposes I’m listing it under it’s original 1988 label, as it’s a clone of that game.

As for the title itself, it’s dated. Very dated.

Nostalgia takes over with some of the introduced characters, as well as what I’m sure were groundbreaking concepts with the 8-way joystick and six buttons for various degrees of punch/kick combos… and of course, the special moves.

The game is a true throwback when it comes to difficulty, however. I never proclaim to be the best gamer and despite my best attempts to cheat and/or use save states, I couldn’t complete the main story mode, if you will. This game may cheat more than almost any other I’ve ever encountered, including some versions of Mario Kart or Mortal Kombat. It’s clear the arcade port was intended to make you part with your quarters and takes cheap shots that drain your life bar quickly.

And that’s considering if you beat the insanely fast timer, another relic of a bygone era where most games didn’t have you just beating an opponent, but also made sure you weren’t standing at the cabinet for too long so they could get X amount of quarters paid per hour.

Honestly, that’s my main gripe with the game. I can overlook the dated graphics and whatnot (heck, I’m playing Game Boy games still) but the intense AI cheating is too much to overcome for my full enjoyment of the game, keeping me from giving it a full thumbs up rating.

The Karate Kid

Love The Karate Kid movie? Awesome. Me too. It’s a classic!

I won’t even ask if you love The Karate Kid video game… it’s not a classic.

This may be one of the earliest movie to crap video game conversions ever. Don’t get me wrong, the game is playable and it brings with it themes and overtones from the first two Karate Kid movies, but that’s about where it ends.

The first level is the protagonist, Daniel LaRusso, fighting in the All Valley tournament. Except, the four rounds feature no opponents resembling the Cobra Kai bullies he faced in the movie. This first level will take you all of 90 seconds to complete.

You may never complete another level in the game after…

The second level whisks you away to Okinawa, where repetitive fights with the same animated goons will wear you out because the controls for this game suck. You’ll often get hit by the goons who you can’t always make contact with yourself.

B kicks. A punches. You get a special “crane kick” and “drum punch” you can pickup during three different bonus levels hidden in doorways you enter throughout the last three levels: a balance beam, ice block break, and catching flies with chopsticks.

None of them are easy.

You can pickup the special moves after defeating some enemies, as a “C” or “D” floats in the air for all of two seconds and disappears. Often, going for these special moves will cause you more harm than ignoring them, as enemies just don’t respawn, they auto-spawn constantly – the only saving grace is, I figured out its sometimes easier to outrun the opponents than fight them and have more spawn, as only two are on any screen at a given time!

The second level ends rescuing a girl above a tower. As with the jumping mechanic necessary to get around in the levels, you press up on the d-pad and hope the game responds with a jump that doesn’t send you to your insta-death.

The third level is pretty unique: it’s just the second level during a storm, with darker background textures and “wind/rain” that pushes items that hurt you and pushes you constantly throughout the stage.

Survive this and you reach the fourth level, which looks like it’s in desert mountains – the enemies look somewhat different and some brandish spears now and require an extra hit to kill.

True to the movies, the Okinawan goons will also throw vegetables at you sometimes.

But all of this is for nothing if you don’t save the girl at the end, who for some reason slides backwards during your final fight with Chozen, and if she falls off of the platform you have to start all over!

I hate to say this, but even if you’re a die hard fan of the movies and video games that suck badly, you may still want to avoid this title. It’s that frustrating to play!

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out! is without a doubt one of the greatest games of all time. Few games come instantly to mind when you mention “button mashing” but this one does. It also offers quite a bit of strategy, comedy relief, and anxiety.

This is a timeless classic, and the first game I can remember with a celebrity/athlete tie-in as a kid. There were others, including games based on movies, but most of those were terrible.

I had forgotten how hard this game could be until giving it another run-through. Mike Tyson is especially impossible, and even with a massive amount of cheats and save states (after giving it a legit “go” that lasted maybe a few seconds) I think it took nearly twenty minutes to topple “Iron Mike”.

That’s a heck of a boss and some major bragging rights back when games were still evolving. Other sports games were rather lame, but Punch-Out! fit the boxing genre to a “T”. It’s highly recommended if you’re into retro gaming.

Final Fantasy

This one is many years in the making. I finally beat Final Fantasy.

I had the original cartridge for Nintendo and twice, I played through the entire game only to have it crash upon entering the final board. The only way out of it was to power off the console, which subsequently, both times, erased my saved game.

I nearly didn’t invest the time in replaying this but having not finished it in my youth made this all the more worth it. (Even if a combo of cheat codes and/or save states may have been used!) I absolutely loved this game (always did, even with it crashing, as noted). It was like having Masters of Universe, my childhood version of Dungeons & Dragons (since I was born after that era) Willow, or just pick one of the 80’s fantasy movies that were out in that era and Final Fantasy wrapped it all nicely in a neat bow.

My only gripe with this game, and it was corrected and then some in the sequels, is that the menu-based combat was super slowwwwwwwwwww. I seriously could’ve beaten this game hours sooner if not waiting for every little dialogue box to painfully scroll through. In fact, I broke my first Bluetooth controller I bought to complete my bucket list because of pressing the A button too much!

In all, this is a classic game in which everyone should give a try, provided it’s your cup of tea.

Mega Man

Continuing the video game bucket list… I started a new series going back to the original MEGA MAN!

Here’s a series that I really only know from Mega Man 2 on the NES (also a mother to beat) and the Mega Man X series on SNES. Therefore, I wanted to go all the way back and play through these from the beginning… bear with me, there’s a ton of them!

Let’s start with the original. This game was #$@&%*! ridiculous to beat, and I’m saying that even with cheat codes.

It’s literally an hour’s worth of a game without all of the cheap jumps that could kill you, the equally crappy bosses (of which you have to face all over again in the final level… on top of multiple extra bosses) plus the fact that if you mistakenly start the wrong stage over again, there’s no way back to the main menu without losing all of your lives to “continue” the game. (I also forgot the random weapon you MUST have to beat the final level but wouldn’t know how to acquire without being told!)

All in all, it’s still a fun, groundbreaking game which introduced weapon upgrades and a free-flowing style to choose whichever path you wanted to play.

Now I look forward to nearly breaking my controller with the sequels!


Is this game better known for being fun, difficult, or because of the Konami Code? (Which was a necessary evil when trying to beat it back in the day!)

Regardless, I tend to think Contra was pretty groundbreaking. While arcade style games were all the rage, Contra took the shooter genre and slapped it into a bowl mixed with the Rambo and Aliens movies.

Rather than make some overly complicated game (of which many will be reviewed here) Contra stuck to the basics:

  • There is no timer. (Good!)
  • One hit kills you (Meh)
  • One button shoots
  • One button jumps
  • You can’t go backward

The placed onus on moving forward, be it horizontally or vertically, while upgrading weapons, avoiding every enemy and enemy fire, and jumping between different platforms/areas within each level.

The boss battles are in your face. At the time this was practically unseen on the NES. Large enemies which took up a third or more of the screen, which made for tight quarters to attempt to beat the board.

Did I mention you could play with a friend simultaneously? That was probably the best part of this game.

The worst part? Dying easily.

It was just so hard to beat this game without perfecting every nuance. However, doing so was satisfying. Even the ending has a little something “extra” besides showing credits or defaulting back to the start screen.

That makes Contra a cornerstone of any video gaming library.