The Electronic Entertainment Expo, or “E3″ as it more commonly known, occurred last week. It’s one of the, if not the, biggest trade show for the video game industry. Gamers the world over turn their eyes to Los Angeles to see whats new and upcoming. I’m tickled excited with upcoming titles and hardware to be sure. I’m going to offer this fair warning though: my Nintendo Fanboy is going to shine through like the sun on a cloudless day. I’ve been playing on a Nintendo since the NES. I’ve owned every home console and an iteration of every generation of hand-held. I routinely return to the Big N because while some people enjoy shooting each other, I like jumping on blocks, fighting evil warlocks and inhaling 100 times my weight in food. That being said, let’s get rolling talking about what got me excited from E3.
So murf, what is up for this week’s Friday Five? Well good reader, I’ll be telling you about my five most favorite video games for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Having just had my 28th birthday this week, and seeing the games that will appear in the Smithsonian’s upcoming ‘Art of Video Games’ exhibit, I felt like taking a little trip down memory lane.
For those too young to be respectful of grandpa’s gaming systems, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (or SNES) was the direct successor to the Nintendo Entertainment System and was Nintendo’s second home console. I’ll be honest; I still consider it to have the best game library ever. If the SNES has the best library ever, then which games are my favorites? Let’s dig in and find out! As always, a friendly reminder that these are presented in no specific order. I would warn that there are likely spoilers ahead, but there’s a statute of limitations on these things in my opinion.
Super Mario World
Back when I was a young’un, our game consoles game with a game! Like that fancy new Wii toy does, but not those fancy Xbox and PS3s. You opened your SNES, plugged it in to the television tube box and you got to play a game right away. If it was a shiny new Nintendo console, you’d be certain it was a Mario game. But this wasn’t like any Mario you’d seen before. No. This was epic Mario. It had crazy levels, you could fly, you could ride a damn dinosaur! I had played the other Mario games, and Super Mario Bros. 3 is still the best, but this was Mario on a totally different scale. The jump to 16-bit meant a huge leap in graphics. The expanded disk size capacity meant more game. If you were a plucky game loving 9 year old boy, this was gift from the gaming gods. It stands as one my favorites because it opened up a whole new world of possibilities for gaming. It, like many other Mario games, was incredible fun. It took all the elements that had made the Mario franchise one of the best, and added some sprinkles on top.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past
Probably still to this day, one my absolute most favorite games of all time is The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past. I remember reading about the upcoming SNES in an article in Nintendo Power magazine. At this age, I didn’t really understand the concept that despite seeing a screen shot, the game had not yet been released. So, imagine how excited I was when I saw ‘Zelda 3′ in a list of games. After getting my SNES, I wanted this new Zelda so badly, but I couldn’t because it didn’t exist yet. I was the first game I waited for with huge anticipation. Then, I finally got a copy of my own. Man, oh man. Hyrule looked amazing! The adventure was epic. The game play was solid. The music was fantastic. The new Dark World element was innovative and incredible. This game was worth every moment I waited. I played through it with vigor and fortitude. I would get frustrated, but I persevered. I remember having my final showdown with Ganon. It took me so many tries to beat him. When I did, I felt so alive and invigorated. I felt this was the first time I truly conquered a game. From beginning to end, I felt that A Link to the Past was nothing short of perfect. It has aged graciously well, and I will continue to love this game for a very long time.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars
Just before the N64 appeared on the stage, juggernauts Nintendo and Squaresoft joined forces to create a game unlike any other. Take Square’s top-notch story telling and mastery of the RPG video game, and mix it with the colorful world of Nintendo’s mustached mascot Mario and you’ve got a recipe for delicious digital awesome-sauce in a can. Mario RPG weaves an epic story that starts out with the Bowser kidnaps Peach idea we’ve seen since Day 1 with Mario, but quickly expands to a world-wide adventure as Mario must retrieve the Seven Stars to restore Star Road, the place where dreams come true. In order to save the day from an army of anthropomorphic weapons lead by new-comer villain Smithy, Mario must team up with a little cloud person, a celestial being inhabiting a doll, his own arch-nemesis and the princess he perpetually saving. Its not the traditional Mario by any means, but it doesn’t strive to be. It is representative of two companies on top of their game, who cemented their reputation on the SNES. By any marker, it is probably the one game that best epitomizes the SNES, which was defined by Nintendo’s first party games as well as some of Sqauresoft’s best work ever and this dual company outing shines brightly. After this, Square left Nintendo behind for greener pastures on the PlayStation and at least, like Calvin & Hobbes, this relationship went out on a high note.
I first played Chrono Trigger as the N64/PSX era was getting under way. Playing shortly before Final Fantasy VII came out. By this time, I had become a huge fan of RPG style games which had started with playing Super Mario RPG. Chrono Trigger took a lot of RPG conventions and turned them upside down. The not-so-random encounters where you actually battled on the very screen you encountered the enemies on. You could mix attacks with members of your party. What made Chrono Trigger truly amazing though, was its story. The game deals heavily with time travel. You gather party members from a variety of time periods, interfere with and fix issues in the time stream and go on an epic quest that spans from the age of caveman to a post-apocalyptic future. One of Chrono Trigger‘s defining aspects was the multiple endings. One you beat the game, you could restart the game with the same stats as when you last played. Thus allowing you to break the natural flow of the story, making it one of the earliest non-linear games. You could beat the game at different points and see new endings that changed based upon what tasks you had or hadn’t completed. This not only added to the replay value, a notoriously difficult thing for a long time investment RPG, but made it so the player felt they had more control over the story. The great character designs by Dragonball author Akira Toriyama didn’t hurt as well. Not to mention that Yasunori Mitsuda’s original score is probably the best one on the SNES, and one of the best in the history of gaming. Seriously, on Overclocked Remix, it is the game with the most remixes, just barely edging out against Final Fantasy VII.
Then there’s the oddball on the list. I rented Super Metroid when it came out, but for the most part wasn’t really sure what I was doing so I returned it and never gave it thought. Fast forward a few years. I get a copy of Super Metroid on emulator. Now I have access to maps and other assorted bits and guides on where to go. Suddenly, with a little extra guidance, the world of Zebes is my new playground. This is an amazing game from start to finish. Every aspect of this game reeks of craftsmanship. I’m gonna go there and say it. This is not only the best entry in the Metroid series but also, in my opinion, the best game on the SNES. Exploring the caverns of Zebes is an exhilarating experience. The boss battles are challenging and exciting. The visuals are stunning, the music is hauntingly atmospheric, and it tells a minimalistic story through a brief introduction cutscene but then only through game play. You get a full story arc that you can understand where the characters barely provide any exposition. The tense, heart-wrenching finale is one of the best and most memorable ever done in gaming. While not without its faults, Super Metroid is an amazing game that is crafted to near perfection. If I taught a class on the history of gaming, this is required material right here. If haven’t played it before and you’ve got the means to play this game (it’s on the Wii’s Virtual Console) I highly recommend playing it.
If there is any one franchise in gaming that I will flock to without question, it is Zelda. Even at their worst (barring the CD-i games), no Zelda game has ever been horrible. Each one is enjoyable to some degree. To me, the quintessential Zelda is A Link to the Past, but that is its own entry into this series. This entry is about the original gold-cartridge goodness.
The brain-child of Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, The Legend of Zelda places you in the role of Link in his quest to defeat Ganon, save Hyrule and rescue Princess Zelda. A fantastic journey of trials and tribulations await our hero. Persevering through a fantastically open world, and through a myriad of maze-like labyrinths brought forth one of gaming’s earliest epics.
I remember picking the game up from the local video rental shop, entranced by its gold cartridge. I started the game and heard that iconic tune for the first time. Soon, I was off to Hyrule on an adventure of getting really lost. I mean super lost. I’m talking ‘how the hell do I get out of the Lost Woods’ lost. For all my annoyance, I was entranced. Though that was probably the awesome music. I finally found my way to the first dungeon, and scurried my way through that as well. Soon enough, I had the first piece of the Triforce and my adventure continued. News flash: I got lost again.
If there’s one thing a lot of the NES games of that day lack, it is helping you. I remember trying Metroid. Talk about being blind. Being about 6 didn’t help much either. There was no internet, there wasn’t even a strategy guide at that point either. No NES Atlas, no nothing. Yet, for what little time I had at first with Zelda was a blast. I didn’t understand the point of the game. This wasn’t like Mario where I had a clear goal and a way to achieve it. I was in the dark and I was confused. That first though was enough. Eventually, The Legend of Zelda came to be in my ownership. It came that handy-dandy map and instruction manual to help me out too.
Zelda was the first game that I feel truly offered me a challenge that I enjoyed. More so than any other NES game that I didn’t beat (which was most of them), I WANTED to beat it. Through thick and thin I soldiered on. Then came the Dark Nuts and the adventure reached a frustrating conclusion thre. I don’t recall ever getting past Level 4 in my initial play through. Likely a mix of that plus other games to play stole me away from Hyrule, but I would occasionally return to try my luck again.
Eventually though, my subscription to Nintendo Power netted me the almighty NES Atlas. With renewed vigor, I set forth and conquered Quest 1. I even took my stab at Quest 2, but I didn’t make it. I beat Quest 1, and I felt good about myself. I rose to the occasion. I gave in the short term, but never in the long term. Ganon got the ass-whooping he deserved. Zelda made me face up to what seemed an insurmountable challenge, and eventually reach the summit. It gave me a sense of tenacity and accomplishment. I don’t remember much in the way of specifics of my attempts, but I remember that each new level brought a sense of foreboding, toil and triumph. It made me feel good about myself, and that with effort I could achieve almost anything. Every so often I go back to this first outing, if only to relive the adventure for a short while. At least until I get to the Dark Nuts.
The Short and Sweet of It
The Game: The Legend of Zelda
Why it was important: In a fantastical land, I learned to face up to my challenges and triumph over adversity.