1994 was a big year for video games. Titles released that year on the SNES and Sega Genesis would be all time classics that are beloved to this very day. Sega had the Sega CD add on which had some hits and misses. Sega would release the short lived 32x in November of 1994 to try and keep the Genesis going just a little while long. But before I get into any of that, it is worth noting that the NES was still alive and kicking in 1994, although just barely. Most of my friends and myself has moved on to Super Nintendo by this point. My NES and the games got packed up, put in a closet, and forgotten about for a long time. Some friends of mine went so far as to throw their NES’s away, thinking it to be as antiquated as Atari and something they would never want to play again. That year, according to Wikipedia, there were 12 official releases in North America for the NES. I don’t have much to say about Mickey’s Adventures in Numberland or Mario’s Time Machine. They are both educational games for small children, focusing on math and history lessons. There is not much more to say than that. By this point, developers have figured out just what the limitations of the system were and learned how to make games for it. While not all the games I am covering today are gems, they aren’t the epicly shitty games you found earlier in the life of the NES. Many of these games could be a blind spot for some who, like myself, had moved on to other game systems and were unaware of these titles. Some of them are worth exploring if you are feeling in a retro gaming mood.
I guess I will start at the end. Wario’s Woods was the last game released on the NES in North America. It is an addictive puzzle game with game play elements from Super Mario Bros. 2. In this game you play Toad. The story goes that Wario has taken over a portion of woods in the Mushroom Kingdom called the Peaceful Woods. Wario has cast a spell over the creatures of the woods and are making them do his bidding. It is up to Toad ,with help from a fairy named Wanda and Birdo from Super Mario 2, to defeat Wario and reclaim the Peaceful Woods. Why Toad and not Mario or Luigi or Princess Peach? I guess they were busy that day.
What happens is that Wanda makes bombs and drops them into the game area. As Toad, you lift the various creatures, matching the color of the creature to the bomb. Blow up all the creatures and move on to the next level. Birdo is in the corning doing….something. I think the official explanation is offering encouragement. You are up against a timer. If the timer runs out, Birdo runs off and Wario shows up. Wanda is also replaced by a pigeon which drops monsters into the game area. DON’T LET THE PIGEON DROP MONSTERS INTO THE GAME AREA. Wario also drops the ceiling lower on you to make matters more difficult. Eventually, Wario gets bored and goes away. Birdo comes back and now you can resume blowing up critters with bombs. Unlike many puzzle games of the time, this one has a proper ending. Get to the last level, defeat all of Wario’s critters, and win the game.
The NES was good for addictive little puzzle games, Tetris and Dr Mario being the most fondly remembered. Wario’s Woods fits right into that category. However, I feel like this game gets overlooked . Most likely because it came out so late in the life span of the system. Wario’s Woods has been released a few times and is currently on the Switch NES Online Library. If you have that service, I would encourage you to give this game a try. It’s easy to learn and hard to master. The gameplay is a lot of fun. Getting to the end was a rewarding experience for me. Wario’s Woods is a concept I think would work out quite well if they retooled it and put out a new version of the game in mobile devices. That is the home of puzzle games these days and I could see this catching on if they did it right.
Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2
Here is a game I didn’t know existed until I started this project. Chip ‘n Dale Rescue Rangers 2 is a sequel to the 1990 game and is based on the Disney Afternoon cartoon. Developed by Capcom, it has all the elements one would expect from a Capcom side-scrolling platformer. You have a catchy 8-bit soundtrack, smooth gameplay and controls, , good looking graphics, and fun elements added to each stage. Capcom really mastered making this type of game and even with this being a late entry into the NES library, they still lived up to their reputation.
Fat Cat has escaped from prison. While that was happening, Chip, Dale, and their friends are all called away on a time bomb situation as a distraction. With Fat Cat safely on the loose, he steals the Urn of the Pharoh and plans to set the evil spirits loose. Chip, Dale, Monterrey, Gadget, and Zipper all track down Fat Cat to an amusement park to bring him to justice.
If I have any criticism of this game its that their isn’t a lot of challenge to it. It’s a lot of fun. They put some time and thought into the platforming and level design. I breezed through this game without much of an issue. You can find this game on PS4 and XBOX One in the Disney Afternoon Collection along with other fantastic games like Duck Tales, Tale Spin, and Darkwing Duck. Disney and Capcom were on a great run in the early 90’s. Watching these shows after school was a favorite part of my day back then. It is a concept that has been lost over time and that is just the way it is. After school programming was so much fun back then. Get home, catch the last part of GWF on ESPN, then it was Duck Tales, Rescue Rangers, then change the channel to PBS for Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego, wrap it up with Tale Spin, finally it was time to go outside and play for a while before dinner and homework. Playing these games certainly is a part of those nostalgic feelings. I am curious how the younger people would feel about these games. To me, they hold up as some of the best from the NES library.
Mega Man 6
Speaking of Capcom, Mega Man would see it’s last entry on the NES in 1994, released in March of that year. Like the aforementioned Chip N Dale Rescue Rangers 2 , the game features a catchy soundtrack, fun platforming elements, smooth controls, and colorful graphics. If you liked the other Mega Man games, then you should like this one because they stayed fairly close to the formula. There are eight robot masters each with their own themed stages. Beat the robot master,gain a special ability move on to the next. Once all the robot masters are defeated, storm the castle. Complete each level of the castle, fight the last boss and win the game.
With the world at relative peace since Mega Man 5, the people decide to have an robot fighting tournament hosted by the mysterious Mr. X. During this episode of Robot Jox, Mr. X takes control of the top eight robots and attempts to take over the world. Mr. X explains he was behind Dr. Wily’s plots all along. Dr Light sends Mega Man into action to take down the rogue robot masters. The eight robot masters are Centaur Man, Blizzard Man, Flame Man, Knight Man, Plant Man, Tomahawk Man, Wind Man, and Yamato Man. Once they are defeated, Mega Man goes after Mr. X directly. You will never guess who Mr. X really is.
The focus of this game seems to lean heavily on the level design. Each of the robot masters levels have some unique challenges consistent with each of their powers. Wind Man’s level has you riding over pit traps and spikes with strategically placed fans. Flame Man’s level has rivers of oil that you don’t want to be in when they get set on fire. This time Rush combines with Mega Man to give him a Jet Pack and Power Punch. The robot masters aren’t terribly difficult this time around. In fact, they are painfully easy to beat. For as difficult as Mega Man 1 was, it’s kind of ridiculous how Mega Man 6 is so easy. The thing I will remember about this game is the contest in Nintendo Power where people could enter their ideas of Robot Master. I submitted an entry and got a pleasant form level in return. I was just happy to have had chance to enter my ideas.
It is fitting that the NES would go out with a Mega Man game in it’s last year. This style of game was defining for the system. The first six Mega Man games were so popular that the 8 bit style would be brought back years later for Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10. Mega Man 6 has been rereleased in several compilations, such as the Mega Man Anniversary Collection on the original X Box and PS2 as well as the Mega Man Legacy Collection Vol. 1 on the Nintendo Switch, 3DS, PlayStation 4, and X Box One. Mega Man would have a rough transition going forward. The SNES I will always associate with the Mega Man X series. It was the home of Mega Man 7 but somehow it just didn’t feel right. The less said about Mega Man 8 on the PS1, the better. Mega Man 6 will probably be remembered as one of the best late entries into the NES library and a bit of a curiosity as most people had moved on to the 16 bit systems by the time it was released.
The Flintstones: Surprise at Dinosaur Peak.
If you happened to buy this game in a bargain bin at Blockbuster back in the day and kept it in your closet all these years, I have great news for you. The Flintstones: Surprise at Dinosaur Peak is one of the rarest games in the NES library. As of press time, a copy of this game sells for anywhere from $800 to $2000. There are apparently less than 10,000 copies of this game floating around. It is believed that Flintstones: Surprise at Dinosaur Peak was an exclusive to Blockbuster in 1994 although there is some dispute to that. Chances are, the only way one played this game back then was to get it from a rental location.
The game is somewhat of a sequel to The Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino and Hoppy also developed by Taito. In Surprise at Dinosaur Peak, you switch back and forth between Fred and Barney. They each have different abilities that help one navigate through each stage. The idea is that Pebbles and Bam Bam are stuck on a lava flow from an erupting volcano. The only way to save them is to walk all the way around the volcano to the other side. In an odd scene at the beginning, The Great Gazoo appears to Fred to tell him that he can’t help because teleportation is behind his abilities. (?) No matter. You side-scroll and platform through the various levels and there are bonus stages with cave man hockey and basketball.
Overall, its a good looking game that plays pretty well. They put some thought into each level as well as the cut scenes. Given how few of these carts were made, it really is impressive just how much care and detail they put into the game. It’s not terribly difficult. You can breeze through it without too much of a hassle. I have to think this game would have done better if it had been released earlier in the life of the NES. Movie and TV show license games were notoriously bad. I had the misfortune of owning Back to the Future. A good friend in my neighborhood ended up with Fester’s Quest. The Flintstones: Surprise at Dinosaur Peak is a drastic improvement from those games. The graphics and game play are far superior to much of the early NES library. Fans of The Flintstones will appreciate the references that the game adds in. It is a genuine Flintstones experience. However, if you want to play this game as a curiosity, I can’t recommend paying up to $800 and beyond for a copy. This a fine game but not worth that much money unless you plan on becoming a serious collector of NES games.
There is some similarity between Bonk’s Adventure and the game just discussed The Flintstones: Surprise at Dinosaur Peak. They are both fairly expensive games that were released late in the lifespan of the NES and have a prehistoric theme. Bonk is best remembered as the mascot for the short lived Turbo Grafx 16 consoul. While the NES version doesn’t look as good as the Turbo Grafx one, it is a really good looking game for an 8-bit system. The game play is very similar to other side-scrolling platformers. The goal is to go from level to level through this prehistoric world trying to save Princess Za from King Drool. A lot of video game plots back then were inspired by Super Mario Bros. Bonk walks through the world with nothing but a headbutt attack. You have a volcano level, water level, ice level,your typical affair for this type of game. Aside from the rarity, what makes this game remarkable is how faithfully they were able to port a 16-bit game onto an 8-bit console. Much like the last game we discussed, it would have been more fondly remembered if it had been released earlier in the NES’s life. Bonk’s Adventure is better than much of what we were stuck playing when the NES was at it’s peak. Bonk’s Adventure was rereleased on the WII and WIIU Virtual Console if you would like to play it without having to pay the obscene price for the actual cart. It is a must have for serious collectors though.
Alfred is a chicken who flaps and pecks his way through five levels popping balloons along the way. I don’t know that there is a story to the game beyond that. Alfred Chicken is a platformer with puzzle elements added in for fun. In each level you have to find green balloons. Pop the balloons and float to the next level. The bulk of the game is climbing up platforms and reasoning out where balloons may be. Unlike many of the games previously discussed, the graphics aren’t all that good looking. It looks like a colorized version of a Gameboy game. The music is also quite annoying and very repetitive. What it lacks in visuals and sound, Alfred Chicken makes up for in gameplay. The levels are a lot of fun to work your way through if your a fan of platforming. The best I can describe it would be like a combination between Krusty’s Fun House and Kid Icarus. There are a few boss fights at the end of each level which resemble a shooter like Life Force or UN Squadrons. That kind of variety is appreciated. Alfred Chicken got a remake for the PS1 in 2002. That game looks a lot better and has more levels to it. I would probably recommend finding that game rather than this once, give how much some of these later years NES game cost. Alfred Chicken is a fun game to pick up and play but they could have done more with the concept and flushed it out better. My hope is that they did that with the remake and made a better gaming experience. The NES version feels like the playable Beta test for a much better game.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters
At this point, I am understanding some of the complaints that the younger generation has about the NES. I have discussed a lot of platformers and puzzle games. If you cut your teeth on these games, then they are great but there isn’t a lot of variety on the system. The NES was a bit too late to cash in on the popularity of fighting games in the mid 90’s, lead by Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter II. Neither of those games would be ported to the NES, although oddly they did make their way to the Sega Master System. If you have played those games or own them, then I tip my hat to you. There weren’t many games on the NES that could fit into the fighting game genre. So imagine my surprise when I found Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Tournament Fighters. If you have this one sitting in the back of your closet, I have great news for you. It is worth quite a bit of money.
The idea of the game is that you pick from one of six characters. Included are the four Turtles, Casey Jones, and Hothead, apparently a character from the comics. You fight each of the Ninja Turtles then go on to face Casey Jones, Hothead, and a final battle with Shredder to beat the game. Shredder is absurdly difficult so there is a great sense of accomplishment when you manage to beat this one. Sadly, in this version of the game, the Ninja Turtles aren’t given their weapons. There is a little bit of move variety from Turtle to Turtle, mostly inspired by Street Fighter II. Leo does a Tornado Kick similar to Ryu and Raph does a Torpedo Launch similar to E.Honda, you get the idea. In the context of the game, there seems to be no reason the Turtles are fighting each other. The pregame cut scene only tells us that Shredder has challenged the Turtles to a fight in the streets of Manhattan. It doesn’t explain why you have to fight all your friends before facing Shredder. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Tournament Fighter is your run of the mill fighting game. Win the best two out of three and move on to the next fight. The game can get a bit glitchy. Graphically, they are really pushing the limits of what the NES could do. The NES controller really wasn’t made for this type of game. The controls don’t feel smooth at all. If you force yourself to get used to it, the game is playable but it feels awkward. By 1994, The Ninja Turtles and the NES were waning in popularity. There are such better examples of fighting games on the SNES and Genesis, including superior versions of this game. It’s no surprise that this was overlooked. Still, Konomi put a lot of work into a game that few people played. The music is excellent and it looks pretty good. The NES just wasn’t made for this type of game.
Zoda’s Revenge: Star Tropics II.
Star Tropics II can be best summed up as more of Star Tropics. This time though your main character Mike Jones (Who?) and his uncle, Dr. J, are flung through history to collect blocks called Tetrads. You play through nine chapters, each one a different point in time of human history. You meet characters like Cleopatra and Sherlock Holmes, who help you along the way. Like the first one, they combine RPG elements with dungeon crawling, puzzle solving, and adventure aspects. Play through the dungeon, collect the Tetrad, go back and talk to the villagers, proceed to the next chapter. I am making it sound simple but this is an incredibly fun and satisfying game. They improved the controls from the first one, now letting you jump and move in a few different directions and not just hopscotching along. Other than that, they didn’t change much from the first. The game still has a quirky sense of humor. The graphics, enemy design, level design, and gameplay all mirror the first one. I don’t mean to be disparaging when I say it’s more of the same because it’s more of a really great game. This has been rereleased a few different times over the years. Although it is not yet on the Switches NES Library, I expect it to appear before too long. Of all the NES games to come out in 1994, this is the one I recommend most.
So that is the NES in 1994. I hope that I have given you some ideas for different games to play that you may have missed when they were first released. Many of these games are worth checking out. Nostalgia for the NES is alive and well today. For many of us, this was our first game console. When you are out and about, you see t-shirts with the classic characters on them in all their 8-bit glory. I have a pair of socks with NES controllers on them. Merchandising the warm feelings for this system to Gen Xer’s and Millinials is going strong and can be found at just about any retail outlet. Something about the NES will always be special to us.The warm, fuzzy, 8-bit memories never really go away although by 1994, we had mostly moved on to bigger and better things. As will I as I continue to celebrate all that was 1994 as we approach the New Year.