In a previous post, I discuss some classic games that you know and probably played, but that you should give a second look in 2020. Here I’ll discuss a trio of all-but-forgotten retro video games.
You may well have missed these games the first time around, but fear not! They’re all worth a play even today – read on to find out why.
3. Ikari Warriors
Have you seen a Rambo movie? Okay, then you get the idea. Like the probably more famous NES game Commando, Ikari Warriors is a top-down, vertically scrolling shoot-em-up about foot soldiers. Unlike that game, your character in Ikari Warriors has a bandana and a friend. Co-op! On the NES! Co-op games were a rarity, and that makes Ikari Warriors a lot of fun if you’re looking for an 8-bit shmup fix. Ammo was limited, which is an interesting twist for the genre, plus you can get in tanks. Co-op tanks! On the NES! And helicopters! That you can never land! So you die! Bridges and other blockades and bottlenecks added some spice to the slaughter, which is good because the graphics and sound weren’t winning any prizes. No, the reason to play Ikari Warriors today is definitely for the gameplay, which is a fun nostalgia trip made better by the ability to run through it (and die, early and often) with a friend. Be warned, though: even for an NES game, Ikari Warriors is hard. I’m pretty sure I never beat this game, but the fact that I had to think about it reminds me that I didn’t care at the time—this is a game you play because it’s fun, not because something amazing happens at the end. Although looking up the ending now, it sounds pretty bizarre, making me extra sure I never saw it.
2. Batman: The Video Game
Batman The Video Game is the first game I remember playing where I got to vicariously be a favorite character from movies or comics. It was so fun. Coming relatively late in the NES’s life cycle (1990), Batman has some pretty robust features for a side-scrolling action platformer. You can wall jump and throw batarangs, and Batman’s sprite looks badass. You don’t have to jump over every enemy in sight in this platformer. You comin’ at me, bro? How about I PUNCH YOU UNTIL YOU DISAPPEAR. The game is loosely (ever so loosely) based on the previous year’s Tim Burton movie with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson, but this comes across only occasionally (mostly in cutscenes, which were not bad for their day, especially since they could conjure up memories of a super-stylish movie), as the levels and enemies have more to do with platforming than with mirroring the film. That’s alright, though—with so many licensed games before and since just providing a soulless copy of a much better movie (etc.), I’ll take a fun game that only halfheartedly tries to be the movie it’s licensed from. If you like Castlevania and/or Batman, this game is worth a try. Also, while it’s not an easy game, it’s definitely more winnable than Ikari Warriors. More middle-of-the-road NES-tough.
When I was a kid I played this game at a friend’s house and became so obsessed with it that it was all I wanted for my birthday (or Christmas?) one year, probably in like 1988 or 1989, long after the game was unlikely to be widely available in stores. So my poor dad scoured the city looking for this game in those dark, pre-internet days, calling into the old media (radio) version of Craigslist, a show called “Swap Shop” where you could explain something you wanted to buy or sell and leave contact info for listeners to follow up on. I don’t think he had to go so far as to take out an ad in the paper. But he got the game somehow, which was pretty awesome of him. Point being, 1) I was really into this game and 2) I’m so glad we decided to go ahead and have the internet.
Why was Rygar so great? It was an early (1987) open-world game whose side-scrolling action-platformer gameplay (top-down in the overworld, for a nice change of pace) focused on getting power-ups (like extra health or stronger attack) and gear such as a grappling hook and a crossbow that would help you reach new areas (like Metroid or Zelda). Your main weapon was a spinning killer shield attached to a chain (not unlike Kratos’s blades later on…), which was pretty cool. Though now that I think about it, it did zero good as a shield that I can recall, so I guess it just looked like a shield. Whatever. It was neat coming across areas you couldn’t access yet and having to remember and then return once you had the right item, and traversing even familiar stages stayed fresh as new tools opened up new routes and additional areas. On the minus side, this being a 1987 game, there’s no way to save, so you should plan on having your NES running for at least 3-4 hours if you want to beat it. The final world is a floating castle or continent, which gives a nice epic feeling of accomplishment (though the actual ending after the final boss is underwhelming in typical NES style).
Rygar also has, in my opinion, some of the most underappreciated music of its console generation. Nearly every song has a catchiness that transcends the limitations of its 8-bit home. And yet, in true early-gaming fashion, the composer (like pretty much everyone else making the game) didn’t get credited—though thanks to the internet I was able to ID Masuko Tsukasa (増子司) as the composer.
Rygar was kind of a cult classic, never achieving wide recognition, so it was surprising to me that the game was rebooted in a well-received PS2 version in 2002 (followed by a terribly-received Wii remake of the PS2 game in 2009).
So those are the three retro video games from the NES library you may have missed that I think you should go out and play. They’re short and fun, so what do you have to lose (other than countless player-character lives)? Still, these only scratch the surface of the underappreciated gems of gaming eras gone by. What old games do you think deserve to be resurrected in the public consciousness, for the NES or other platforms? What makes them worth returning to in 2020?