The classic Nintendo Entertainment System (or "NES") literally set the standard for our modern video game age, and every new game owes its success to the olden days when people like me sat like couch potatoes, glued to the tube with a controller in hand, trying to save Princess Zelda or racking up hundreds of extra guys with the Super Mario Brothers turtle trick.
Believe it or not, the video game industry was in the toilet before the NES hit the market. After a huge boom in the early 80's put products like the Atari in living rooms throughout America, the entire market crashed harder than a drunk guy down a flight of icy steps. The classic Nintendo literally revived the industry and set it on the path it is now - a kajillion dollar per year industry.
So what were some of these "Standard Setters?" I'm glad you asked, here they are in no particular order. Remember that I picked these based on two major criteria: Awesomeness of the game itself and its impact on the video game world.
1. Super Mario Bros
Yeah, this game was packaged with the Nintendo systems, and yes it was improved upon many times over. But the fact remains that this single title was the "hook" that captivated so many people upon opening their NES box, addicting them to the drug that is home video games.
But beyond that, this was one of the first titles to take the horizontal scrolling screen game play out of the arcades and into the home. It's hard to believe, but before Super Mario Bros, most video games didn't scroll. This was a huge evolutionary point in the gaming world.
2. The Legend Of Zelda
Just as Super Mario Bros revolutionized the video game world with its scrolling game play, The Legend Of Zelda revolutionized it with its non-linear, role playing style. Unlike other games, you weren't forced to complete levels or push ahead the story line, with Zelda you could spend hours exploring the fictitious world, jumping down into the dungeons (which were leveled and become progressively harder) at your convenience.
Some of the most recent successful games owe their roots to Zelda, particularly the massively popular World of Warcraft. In fact, any game that doesn't require you to actively pursue a specific goal can trace its lineage back to this classic.
Also, Zelda was one of the very first console games to allow players to save their games, which meant they could pick up where they left off (without the inconvenience of game codes). Image where we'd be today if video games didn't have this function? And to think Zelda revolutionized this!
Metroid combined the elements of Zelda and Super Mario Brothers into a revolutionary type of gameplay that the world had never seen before. The scrolling screen system got a 2-D overhaul, allowing players to climb upwards and downwards as well as left to right. And the entire game took place in a huge maze, which meant players not only pushed the hero "Samus" through hordes of enemies, but also through a seemingly unending network of tunnels, corridors and lava.
Metroid also broke a giant stereotype in the hero world. As anyone who beat the game several times probably remembers, Samus eventually unmasks to reveal... a woman! That's right, no muscle-pumped Arnold types here. Yes friends, Metroid signaled the first infusion of femininity into the video game market. While the unmasking was a surprise to many, once word got out, many woman and young girls (traditionally not big video game consumers) ran to the store in droves to pick up a copy of Metroid.
4. Tecmo Bowl
Technically, sports games did exist before Tecmo Bowl, but... well let's just say they were horrible at best. But Tecmo Bowl literally changed the way video games adapted to the professional sports world. In this classic, players can choose from any of the professional NFL football teams (well, the teams of the time, some have since moved or changed their names) and control a contingent of eight men on offense and defense. You could even call the plays like a coach, choose your receivers and juke defenders.
It should be noted that not only did Tecmo Bowl change the face of sporting games, it was the first time a video game got the official "Okay" from a professional sports association. Before this classic hit the shelves, the players and teams were only fictitious. So if you're a fan of the newest Madden football hit, you can owe your addiction to the ground-breaking efforts of Tecmo Bowl.
Oh, and for those of you who said "What about Mike Tyson's Punch Out" in terms of professional licensing, I'm excluding it because other than Iron Mike himself, all other characters were ficticious. So while it got an official endorsement from one athlete, it didn't put players "into the real boxing world" so to speak. Besides, once Tyson's contract with Nintendo expired, the game makers wrote him out of it all together.
5. Duck Hunt
While Duck Hunt didn't feature the awesome story lines, amazing scrolling screens, savable games or even the deep story lines of the other games on this list, it did something else that revolutionized the video game world: It used a gun. Before this game, the only real option was a movable set of crosshairs that players could adjust through the up, down, left and right buttons on the controller.
Even though shooting games haven't been popular in recent years, many additional titles hit the home video game shelves and even neighborhood arcade isles following the successful run of Duck Hunter. And while I could sit here and list dozens of other titles that included great story lines, deep character development and other things, the fact remains that the programming within Duck Hunter allowed players to forgo the controller and instead use a more 'personal' control surface (a gun you pointed at your target).
It might be a far cry, but I truly believe that modern video game motion-activation, like the Nintendo Wii, all trace their lineage back to the days when players could put down the controller and actually interact with the images on the screen.
What Do You Think?
Narrowing this list down to only five titles wasn't easy, and I could easily stretch it to a "Top 50" without much problem, but ultimately I stand by these five titles, and for the reasons I outlined. That's not to say that other games aren't great, or that they don't deserve their own special spot on a Nintendo game list somewhere themselves.
I still remember spending hours in front of our living room TV, trying to beat the next level of a new video game. And I also remember my dad saying "Someone should invent a game called 'Refinance Home Mortgage,'" since several of his friends found themselves addicted to (at the time)-expensive video game titles, often at the expense of their jobs and other adult responsibilities. But that's besides the point.
I'd like to hear what you think. What was your favorite(s) classic Nintendo game?