NintendoLegend.com’s Five Fine NES Series Reminder: The following choices are in no particular order, and do not reflect a “best of” list, but merely a summarized list of examples per category on the Nintendo Entertainment System. In this case, Five Fine NES License Games.
The Nintendo Entertainment System carved quite a legacy as the one-time most-popular home video game console. It resurrected the home console video gaming industry, it put video games into mainstream consciousness to stay, it introduced the world to Mario and other icons, along with being known for many of its all-time classic titles.
However, another reputation that the NES has is that of its 750+ cartridges, many of those 8-bit games were dreadful. Although some of these horrid video games could be blamed on factors such as poor development companies, unfinished code, terrible concept, putrid execution, or other elements, one of the primary culprits were license games.
These were video games based on popular media licenses, such as television shows or movies. Since these cartridges were intended to capitalize on a potentially short-lived name recognition, many of the games were produced quickly and cheaply, with little regard to actual gameplay quality. This is how we ended up with absolutely nightmarish iterations of popular franchises like the X-Men.
Amidst all the junk and garbage, though, were a handful of license games that were truly good, ones that the creators genuinely tried to place a positive experience into. It is these exceptions that we still treasure in part due to their despite-all-odds success, standing brightly against the shadowy figures of lesser license titles.
When SunSoft was commissioned to produce a video game based on the Batman film, which itself was based on a popular comic book series character, the challenge was immense in direct proportion to massive expectations. The world of Batman was deep, dark, gritty, and intense. Could such a portrayal be managed on the 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System console? Apparently so, because the Batman game proved to be a popular success that incorporated quality cutscenes, atmospheric music, slick animation, and solid platforming action into one heck of a challenging beat-’em-up.
Yes, that is the next selection on this list: Willow. Although it may have gone unnoticed by some, this ambitious video game, based on the medieval fantasy film starring Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis as directed by Ron Howard based on a George Lucas story, is often under-appreciated despite its inherent merits. While its flaws, such as lengthy wastes of time spent with in-town travel since only one inhabitable building was ever put on-screen at a time, would prevent it from being more popularly regarded, this was an in-depth top-down adventure quest with role-playing elements. With a refinement in its graphics somewhere between Legend of Zelda and Crystalis, Willow stands as an interesting example of the hybrid genre beloved by many. With its tough difficulty, spell repertoire, expanded storyline, and the innovation to have a higher level increase the speed of a weapon swing, Willow would prove a worthy play for any retro gaming fan.
Superstar developer Capcom, maker of such hits as the Mega Man series, could have filled their list by themselves with an impressive resume of license-game successes. They managed to produce over a half-dozen Disney-based video games, such as titles from franchises like The Little Mermaid animated film and the Rescue Rangers television show. Any of those examples could have been placed in this spot, but Darkwing Duck gets the nod for its Mega Man-like action sequences, well-honed gameplay, innovations such as the cape shield, and overall baddie-blasting enjoyment.
One particular developer, LJN, became notorious for being responsible for some of the bad license games, their notoriety sped along partially due to the efforts of the Angry Video Game Nerd’s videos, some of which he spends insulting their NES games. In reality, while many of their games may have been sub-par, they actually did produce a few notable titles, including their 8-bit video game based on the Marvel Comics character Punisher. This was a distinctive game; it was not quite a first-person shooter, not quite a light-gun game, but was more like a rail shooter on the NES. The player controls The Punisher in the foreground as he moves back and forth, blasting at foes in the background as they return fire. It is a challenge best-suited for fans of high-octane shoot-first action, and remains one of LJN’s best efforts from the era.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game
In what would become of the best-selling NES cartridges of all time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game was a port of the notable TMNT arcade cabinet, the 8-bit version being put together by reputable developer Konami, operating under the secondary title Ultra in order to publish more games. Although it lacked the total impact of the arcade unit, the console contender was no slouch, and proved to be mindless slash-’em-up fun for millions, with levels added that were not even in the arcade game and hundreds of robot ninjas to destroy throughout.
Despite the obvious reasons for so many license games being so bad, the good-faith work by certain developers to actually publish high-quality license games was one of the many factors that made the Nintendo Entertainment System so incredibly popular, and one of the reasons that millions of gamers worldwide can play on current consoles as well.
When Eric “Nintendo Legend” Bailey isn’t sifting through utterly awful 8-bit license games to find a few gems, he writes the Nintendo Legend blog where he is on a crazy quest to play and review every NES game ever released in the North American region.