Aug 29, 2011
The NES arrived in the United States at a strange time; while it was obvious to Nintendo that video games were not going away any time soon, the video game crash of the early 1980s left many Americans feeling that games were a fad whose time had come. Nintendo made many calculated decisions when releasing the NES in the United States to make Americans think of the system less as a video game console, and more like an interactive VCR — something that was practically standard living room equipment. The system was shaped like a VCR, and even operated like one. Games were not called “cartridges” — that reminded people too much of the Atari 2600 — instead, they were “game paks.” Nintendo’s gamble paid off, and the NES became such a mainstream success in the United States that before long, game makers were releasing titles for nearly every conceivable niche. You can find some of the weirdest games ever released for any system on the NES, and these are my top ten picks.
1989 — Rare — Purchase
No list of the strangest NES games would be complete without a mention of Taboo: the Sixth Sense. This “game” does just two things, and you can see everything it has to offer in about ten minutes. You enter a question, and the game predicts the answer for you with a virtual Tarot card reading. Following this, Taboo predicts your winning lottery numbers — unless you live in a state that didn’t have a lottery in 1989, in which case you’re out of luck. I seem to remember what when Nintendo Power mentioned this game, they wrote that it would have a Ouija board component as well, but that’s nowhere to be found.
1993 — Wisdom Tree — Purchase
Wisdom Tree made a name for itself making Mario and Zelda clones with religious overtones for kids with overbearing parents who wouldn’t let them play the originals. Bible Buffet has to be the oddest game ever released by this company, though. It’s something of a virtual board game. A spinner tells you how many spaces you can advance, and most of the time you end up playing an inane mini-game that requires you to do something like collect vegetables while throwing hammers at evil “@” symbols. If the spinner lands on a book, though, you’ll have to take a Bible quiz — just to remind you that you’re playing a religious game.
1991 — Ultra/Konami — Purchase
Have you ever wished that baseball had a bit more to offer, like robots for players, and death matches to decide close plays? Well, BaseWars is the game for you. BaseWars has four different robot types, each with their own skills and special attacks. If you play a season, you can purchase upgraded weapons between games. If you manage to beat a robot enough times to destroy it, it is out of the game permanently. If you knock enough robots out of a game, you win automatically. Oh, and there’s also baseball. The baseball and fighting mechanics are both rudimentary, but fun enough to warrant playing the game. I rented it several times as a kid.
1989 — Jaleco — Purchase
Pinball and role-playing are two genres begging to be made into a hybrid, right? The RPG mode of Pinball Quest consists of several multi-screen pinball games. Use your ball to defeat enemies and advance, while purchasing upgraded flippers and bumpers from a shop between rounds. If you don’t have enough points to purchase the item you want, you can attempt to steal it — but fail, and you’ll be knocked back a level. Pinball Quest also includes three pure pinball games without RPG elements. Considering that the NES had little to offer pinball fans, it actually wasn’t such a bad game. It even included a tilt function, although that didn’t seem to do much.
1991 — Meldac of America/Live Planning — Purchase
It isn’t so much the mechanics of Zombie Nation that make it such an NES oddity. It’s a fairly standard side-scrolling space shooter, and a rather poorly executed one, at that. However, that’s where the normality ends. Your “ship” is actually a giant disembodied head that vomits on its enemies. This might make you assume that you are the “Zombie” in the title, but no — you’re actually the ghost of a dead samurai, fighting the zombies. Since your vomit has the ability to destroy buildings and send humans falling to the ground screaming “HELP,” you might assume that destroying the humans gives you points, but no — you’re supposed to help them.
1989 — Bandai — Purchase
Sometimes you have to wonder if some of the wierd platformers for the NES just became so strange because halfway through production, the developer realized that the game had nothing going for it and decided just to make the game as weird as possible so nobody would notice. Monster Party is a generic platformer with a horror theme and some really awful controls. There would be nothing notable about it if not for the fact that the horror elements are actually somewhat graphic for an NES game. It’s also the only game that I know of with a boss fight that gets aborted with the boss telling you, “I’m already dead.”
1990 — Sofel — Purchase
One has to wonder what gave Sofel the idea that kids would want to buy a game based on the stock market. In the game, you discover that you are the only living relative of a rich uncle who has just passed away. You are given $500,000, with the goal of turning into your first million just in time to buy a house for the same price. If you meet all of the goals set forth by your uncle’s lawyer, you will inherit his fortune. Meanwhile, you have to take your girlfriend out on dates regularly to keep her from getting bored, and exercise to stay healthy. It’s worth playing once, but Wall Street kid is a mediocre execution of a poor premise.
1989 — Hot-B — Purchase
There have been a number of fishing games released over the years, but The Black Bass is the earliest that I know of. It’s well done for what it is, with a decent challenge level, pleasant music, changing weather conditions, lots of locations to fish in and plenty of lures to choose from. Although you can catch different types of fish, the only ones that improve your tournament standing are, of course, black bass. The game requires you to select the correct lure for the weather, and move it in such a way as to attract fish without scaring them. Reel one in too quickly, and you’ll break the line. The Black Bass was popular enough to warrant several sequels.
1989 — Absolute Entertainment — Purchase
A Boy and His Blob is an example of a weird game premise done completely right. The game is something of a platformer, except that your character is unable to do anything but walk left and right. When you face an obstacle, you must feed a jellybean to your blob to solve it. Each jellybean flavor turns the blob into something different; for example, a tangerine jellybean turns the blob into a trampoline, while a honey jellybean turns him into a hummingbird. The variety of puzzles and creativity required to solve them make this one a real winner. The game was remade in 2009 for the Nintendo Wii.
1986 — Taito
The prize for the weirdest NES game ever goes to Takeshi’s Challenge, a game designed by a Japanese celebrity who apparently hated video games. In the game, you play a disgruntled office worker who must quit his job, take all of his money out of the bank, divorce his wife, and fly to the South Pacific. The game features such challenges as singing into the microphone of the second controller — the game was released for the Japanese Famicom only — and not touching the controller for an hour. You can also beat the game without completing any challenge by punching the first person that you see 20,000 times.