Stalagmite's NES Review
Loads of great games to collect, graphics engine was good for its time (though outdone by the Sega Master System a little later on), musical scores were always fun to listen to (maybe a little primitive by today's standards, but who cares?) and games were always a blast to play (well, most games...). Both systems also looked cool.
The accessories were basically useless and the console (toaster model mostly) screws up too quickly due to its cartridge slot. Cartridges and original toaster-designed system are quite the dust magnets.
Created in 1983 by Nintendo, released in Japan that same year and released everywhere else in 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was created to stop the video game crash of 1983. The plan worked with the help of this robot accessory named R.O.B (Robotic Operating Buddy), which not only let the NES become available in stores, but also act as a second player. Only problems with this accessory: It only works for two games! And even so, he's slow to react! The creators thought "well, R.O.B got us into the US market and we got a couple of games he can play, let's just act like he never existed and make games like Atari did but better", so they threw the robot out like he was nothing. You might be spewing, but let me tell you this...R.O.B was a disaster to play with as far as the two games went. He was slow to press buttons, which meant, if you had to have R.O.B quickly press a button, say...open a door, you instruct him to via pressing Select then A or B on your controller...and he takes his time...just a little longer...OSHI! I lost! ARGH! No wonder Nintendo ditched him after a short lifespan! He seemed like such a good idea, a wonderful concept on paper, but when constructed, he was nothing more than an annoyance. Just great...
And, to be completely honest, R.O.B really set the standards for a LOT of NES accessory known to mankind, save for a few of them. More on them later. Let's get back to the history of the NES.
Outside of Japan, alongside R.O.B and two games, were sixteen other games...all eighteen plus R.O.B being released simultaneously. Now, seventeen of these games were just released to give the NES library a great start internationally, but one game was THE GAME to have in your collection, as it always comes with the NES (that’s if you bought your NES system back in the day, not these days at a garage sale or Ebay and certainly not through emulation) thus you already own it, and this legendary game is called...Super Mario Brothers! This gave its consumers a taste of what the NES can achieve, with simplistic gameplay consisting of running and jumping on enemies while trying to make it to the end without dying, a catchy soundtrack, wonderful graphics and...well, it's just easy to pick up and play. What a legendary beginning to anybody's experience with the NES! The other seventeen games, heck, a lot of the NES's library throughout its time could not compare to Super Mario Brothers, but the seventeen were still good additions. Some of them were laughable (Donkey Kong Jnr Math!?), some were kind of boring to play (Ice Climber and Wrecking Crew) and some really set the standard for their sort of games, as they weren't all that flash (Baseball, Golf and Tennis...wouldn't say 10 Yard Fight though, that was pretty decent, and wouldn’t say Mike Tyson’s Punch Out either, it’s one of the best sports games and one of the best the NES had to offer). However, they were all influential to the future of game development, with Super Mario Brothers making way for sidescrollers, Mach Rider making way for F-Zero and other futuristic games (though it was basically the F-Zero set of blueprints), Kung-Fu inspired a lot of beat em ups and the others just influenced the rest of gaming as we know it (yeah, even Donkey Kong Jnr Math plays its part by influencing educational games...wow). It was doing well.
Eventually, more games got released, and in time, more accessories were released to the public. The NES library was in the 700’s, and in that ocean of games, there were a lot of classics (Journey To Silius, Metal Storm, Blaster Master, Metroid, Castlevania I-III, Contra and Super C, Megaman I-VI, and many, many more)...however, there were also bad games (Ghostbusters, Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, Deadly Towers, Dragon’s Lair, among every game LJN Toys ever released). Nothing, however, was as influential as Super Mario Brothers 1 and 3! For one, they were both packaged with NES’s, and they had decent TV shows based on them. However, they were promoted differently. The first Super Mario Brothers had a typical commercial which was advertised on TV, but the third...it had a movie which features the game towards the end, which began the hype...and folks, that was BEFORE the game was even released! So, whoever saw The Wizard on the big screen had a sneak peek of what Super Mario Brothers 3 would be like. Actually, The Wizard was a movie based on the NES itself (wonder what the Sega Master System’s equivalent of that is), Super Mario Brothers 3 wasn’t promoted a fair bit outside of the movie (I think there was just an advert on TV before and during its time in the cinema), kids were just interested in the fact that there’s many NES references. Super Mario Brothers 3 was just a treat for those who actually did bother to watch the movie. Unfortunately, this system and what it did was the only good part of the movie, everything else was kind of...drab. The movie was a rare instance in product placement movies, as the viewers were more interested in the product (NES and games) than the movie itself (which is about some kid who wants to go to California, and some people see that he rules at NES games so they enter him in a game tournament, while running from some bad guy and the kid’s dad), but it was still a childhood favorite of mine. So you could already imagine that the NES was an influential system, and also quite ahead of its time, judging by the history and some promotions. I don’t know any movies based on the PS3 or even the PS1, or even the SNES. What power...
As far as the graphics engine goes, it manages 8-bit graphics finely and it’s far superior to that of the Atari 2600, ColecoVision and Intellivision, supporting more colors and bringing in some more in the process. Even the first game, Super Mario Brothers, had better graphics than anything Atari 2600 ever had. It even reminds me that the NES is going forwards in terms of graphics. Let’s compare the original Donkey Kong on the 2600, then the updated version on the NES. On the 2600 version, Donkey Kong looked like an obese African American, Mario and Pauline (the chick Mario has to save in Donkey Kong) looked...well, I guess they looked human, the barrels looked like rotating circles with holes and everything else was nothing more than lines, which was aesthetically pleasing to the eyes but a little primitive. The NES version had Pauline...look like Peach and Mario more like the Mario we all know today, and Donkey Kong looks like a gorilla, instead of an obese African American. The fire even looks like fire on the NES version! So judging by the example, everything started looking more realistic on the NES than the 2600 and even better too. As time went on, the graphics began to become more detailed. Look at games such as Kirby’s Adventure, Metal Storm, Journey To Silius and Startropics (first one only), compared to Super Mario World, Ice Climber, Excitebike and the other release games (and other earlier games). You’ll see a difference in the amount of detail in the graphics over the years. My only concern here is that the Sega Master System has roughly the same graphics engine, only they have many, many more colors on screen at a time; the NES only showed about 16 colors on screen, while the SMS showed about 50 colors...wow. How is it a problem? Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it a problem, but maybe you might. It meant that the NES wasn’t as colorful as the SMS! But since the NES was colorful enough, it doesn’t mean that much, though there is some sort of satisfaction from having colorful games back then that Sega got, and I’m not sure how to describe that, so moving on.
An aspect of gaming which was mostly influenced by the NES (and later, the SMS) would be the audio. Much like the graphics, it was all 8-bit and superior to the 2600’s. Remember the 2600’s music? All monotonous, boring and primitive...well, that’s all they could manage back then, so I’ll give them that, but the NES seriously kicked this up a notch or two. They sound kind of monotonous by today’s standards, but, for one, it’s much more lively than the 2600’s (and to be honest, the NES’s soundtracks were a bit more lively than the SMS’s) and also, they’re still some of gaming’s catchiest tunes (like the first level of the first Castlevania, the first level of Blaster Master and, of course, a lot of levels on Super Mario Brothers). If it wasn’t for the inclusion of stereo sound and the inclusion of multiple instruments (which had to be reduced to an 8-bit sound, not only because it would suit the game better, but also because of system limitations), the soundtracks of the NES (and SMS) would be the exact same as the 2600’s, or only a little superior (as opposed to far superior). The best example of music as far as the 8-bit era went (yes folks, the era, not just the NES, but the entire 8-bit era as well) has to be Journey To Silius. Five people were credited for the music and, holy crap, does it show...Too bad there are some games with atrocious music (which is usually aided by broken/horrendous/bland gameplay and poor controls, and sometimes even bad graphics...looking at you LJN...and whoever made that horrible Transformers: Convoy No Nazo game...ugh), but ignore those, Journey To Silius makes up for that whilst crushing them in every aspect, especially music. Sound effects...meh. They’re alright. They vary quite a bit from each other when the 2600 certainly had, maybe, a few sound effects, so I give them the thumbs up there, but in terms of quality, they sound kind of cool, especially for an 8-bit system, though they sound kind of muffled. But the technology wasn’t there to make the sound effects any better than they could be, I mean, it’s only 1985, it practically died out somewhere near the mid 90’s and throughout that time, there wasn’t much they could do there, so I guess it’s a good effort there. Not much you can say about these, they’re all your basic ‘bleep’ ‘woup’ and the like that’s kind of like the 2600’s, but better, and more variety. Good try though, Nintendo, especially without the technology that would perfect the sound. Good try.
As for how you can make these graphics existent or mobile after putting the cartridge into the system, you’ll need a controller. The controller was pretty cool. It has a rectangular shape like the NES, only smaller. It had a D-pad, which I found much better than the 2600’s joystick (as it doesn’t break or perform worse with each use). It also had an A and B button, which allowed for two actions to be performed. Plus it had a start button and a select button, which can change game mode at the title screen, start the game, pause the game, you name it. Seems simple enough. While it’s a little more complicated than the 2600’s controller (which is a button and joystick), it’s much simpler and, in general, better than the ColecoVision’s and Intellivision’s controllers (do we honestly need 20 buttons for games like Frogger and Asteroids???). I really don’t mind this controller, but it felt kind of limiting, and on occasion, uncomfortable. A big example is in Double Dragon. There’s a fair amount of special moves, but you can only use two buttons for them (A, B and AB) and these two buttons command more than three special moves, so that’s kind of a drag. Thankfully, a lot of the games were simple, so it wasn’t a huge concern. The real concern is comfort. No, not in just holding it alone, that’s alright, but the corners are fairly sharp and poke your hands a fair bit. Referring back to the SMS, its controller was a lot like the NES’s, only black and has a square D-pad, which I guess makes diagonal movement easier...that’s probably it though.
The NES also had turbo controllers, so if you had a button mashing fest to go through, always rely on these babies! The turbo controllers came in two different models. One was the NES advantage, a large controller with an analog stick and a whole lot of buttons, like the usual Start, Select, A, B and turbo buttons which, instead of mashing, you can simply hold, and it’s just like mashing without hurting your thumb from doing it. It also had a couple of knobs for turbo speed, but they felt quite useless so I just turn them until they’re useful, then ignore them for the rest of its lifespan. Adding to that was a slow button, which...slows down the game. I guess I can see why you’d want to use that...to slow down the game. Meh. Seems cool I guess. The one thing I’m not a fan of as far as the advantage goes is that it’s too big to just hold. I often found myself resting this on my lap or on the table to operate it. Thankfully, there’s an alternative model, so that should help. Fun fact: It makes an appearance in Ghostbusters 2 when the Ghostbusters bring out an NES advantage to control the statue of liberty to get closer to the bad guys. Nintendo ruled the world! But I digress. The other turbo controller was the NES max. It was basically a compact NES advantage, but it did away with the knobs and slow button, and has a shorter analog stick. I actually prefer this controller to both the NES advantage and the original NES controller. It was much more comfortable to hold and it helps when you need diagonal movement.
Now, the games, graphics and sound engines and controllers were mostly good, a little inferior to the SMS but that’s alright, the NES was still good. Unfortunately, a large majority of the NES accessories, much like R.O.B, failed miserably.
Let’s start with the Power Glove. All I can say here is that...I love the Power Glove...it’s so bad... And I mean BAD! Look at it! The Power Glove was a barely functional glove that was nothing more than an experiment in gaming technology, though right now, it’s considered a scam that is equal to that of the Atari 5200 controller. It seemed like such an alright concept, using your hand to control a game, but what we got was a broken glove with a whole lot of buttons on a rectangle attached to the glove. How so? Well, before we even begin, we better go get some codes. The Power Glove required you to enter some codes before playing the game. Then you had to figure out how to move, jump, attack or whatever else you do in NES games. And even if you do figure them out, there’s a chance that they won’t be performed in the game, so luck is another factor in this piece of garbage. Another thing you have to do is actually control it! This gets frustrating as the bloody thing moves the sprite to places it really shouldn’t go to, like near an enemy or down a pitfall. It’s not easy to control it either, because, like I said, luck plays a part in this too. You have to be lucky that it does what you want it to do. What a frustrating mess! No wonder it was considered bad in the Wizard (REAL product placing movie here, there’s even a part that has one of the not-so bad guys demonstrating its power by playing Rad Racer, and finishing the first level, then saying to the 3 protagonists “I love the Power Glove...it’s so bad...) There were two games designed specifically for the Power Glove (Super Glove Ball and Bad Street Brawler), as well as some games that play better than it does with the controller (both Rad Racers are great examples here) that work somewhat better than with other games, but as the two games designed for the Power Glove suck, and the two Rad Racer games aren’t all that great either, it’s just not worth your time and money to purchase those. It’s better for bin filling really! Thankfully, the Power Glove got redesigned completely...in the form of the Wiimote for the Wii. MUCH better! Let’s throw this waste into the bin!
Another waste is this...board you put on the ground and you rock on it to operate the D-pad, or “rolling rocker” as it’s called. Uhh...how do I operate the A and B buttons? According to the manual, I have to plug the controller to the board. But wait! If you have to use the controller for A and B whilst using the rolling rocker to operate the D-pad, then... That’s pointless! Why not just use the controller without this thing!? To add onto this stupidity, it’s not compatible with ANY of the NES games in its entire library! ...okay, it is, but it might as well not be! Why? It doesn’t work! Disconnect that cord from the rolling rocker, place that controller somewhere for now, disconnect the rocker’s wire from the NES, throw it in the bin and connect the controller to the NES controller port! What a waste, but then again, anything LJN makes is a waste.
Okay, let’s put that waste of plastic in the bin and bring out yet another waste of plastic to test... the speedboard! You place your controller into the gap and the wire into the smaller gap and... Oh god. Looks like something that takes up space in the bin alongside the Power Glove. Why? It’s a piece of plastic and nothing more! According to the box, it’s to ‘put the speed at your fingertips’. Why would I want that!? Well, I’d like to tap buttons faster I guess, but not like this! If I have to mash a button in a game at a fast pace, I’d go get myself a turbo controller like the NES Advantage or NES Max! What a waste! Not much else to say here.
You ever have to wonder why we’re lacking oil...it’s being wasted by becoming the plastic that made these garbage accessories! There were many more accessories which sound, look, and, quite possibly, are stupid! For example, the Laserscope, advertised as ‘parents will love what they don’t hear’, so they’d rather hear the player yell “FIRE” as opposed to the NES game being played...wow. I sure as hell wouldn’t! Dammit Konami, why!? There’s another one called the NES Lockout, which prevented kids from playing the NES when they weren’t supposed to. Parents, try this thing called discipline. If your kids play the NES, punish them! They’ll learn their lesson! There’s more but I really don’t want to describe how much of a waste they are.
But there were good...well, there were average NES accessories (which were good at the time, though not by today’s standards) which...existed really.
You have an NES Zapper (which we all just called ‘the gun’, because that’s what it is), which was used for certain games involving a first person perspective and guns (I guess the compatible games were the pioneers for the First Person Shooting games...). The design was...actually, there were two designs, however, one was for the Famicom (Japanese NES) which is actually kind of different from the NES, and as I’m reviewing the American NES, I’ll describe the American design. It’s basically a Sci-Fi ray gun. The earlier designs were gray, but the newer designs had neon orange on most of the gun (with some still retaining a gray color). When the trigger is pulled, the screen turns black for a frame, then retains the blackness next frame but with a white rectangle in place of where the target (whether it was a disc, a duck or a clay pigeon, depends on the game) was upon shooting. It is possible to cheat with the gun by adjusting the brightness and contrast settings on your TV or pointing the gun at a bright light. The gun will think it hit a target (lol @ the idea of a lightbulb being a target) and you’ll still score the hit. But honestly, you’re only cheating on yourself, and you know it’s no fun to cheat, so do the sensible thing and work on your aiming...at the TV, not a lightbulb or whatever, I mean the TV! But anyways, back in the day, the gun was basically the way to go for NES owners (mostly because Duck Hunt came with the NES and Super Mario Brothers). Hell, people still have them! I know I do! I got 4 of them still at home! However, my major problem with the gun, and the very reason why I have 4 instead of just 1, was this; if you’re using a newer TV, don’t expect it to work much. The consistency of hitting your target, even with the lightbulb trick, is very random. It’s like sometimes you hit your mark and sometimes you miss completely (and there’s no compensation for the crooked sight that seems to miss the target completely at random times, so don’t think of finding one). Oh well, at least it just has a flaw, instead of being nothing but flawed (which you can’t say the same for the large majority of NES accessories).
Another useful accessory (well, it’s not exactly an accessory but it sure feels like it) was the NES cleaning kit, which was mainly used for cleaning up the NES, well actually, it was meant for the original NES (toaster model, not the top loader aka NES 2). The first tool consisted of a plastic handle and an end with a C-shaped padded cleaning surface. This surface was designed to be wet with water and inserted over the contacts of a cartridge and used to scrub the cartridge's contacts. The second tool was similar in design and function but had a flat padded end for insertion into the console itself to clean the console's contacts. Cleaning the console and the cartridges once a month would supposedly extend product life and increase reliability. Long use would eventually dirty the cleaning pads, which could be replaced at cost through either mail order or by phone using information found in the manual. The Cleaning Kit was apparently created in response to the common practice amongst gamers of blowing into the cartridge or console in an attempt to remove dust from the contacts. Like I said at the beginning of this paragraph, this was very common with the toaster design of the NES because it was very hard to clean without these accessories (okay, guess it’s actually three accessories).
Speaking of toaster design...
The toaster design often liked to break down on players. No matter how many times you tried to clean the system, you bugger it up just once, you may as well consider it broken. As much as I like the NES, I’m afraid the original just loved to screw you over. How so? In order to keep the games connected to the circuitry, it had these pins in the system which kept the cartridge in place, though the problem lies in what happens to them. What is it? Well, you know how metal bends when there’s a fair amount of pressure on them, right? You do? Great! Why am I asking this? The pins in the original NES was made of metal, that’s why! And they bend! And keep bending, and bending, and bending more so each time a game is inserted, until the infamous blue......black......flickering......screen comes onto your TV. THIS WAS ANNOYING BACK IN THE DAY! UGH!
Oh, and don’t get me started on the fact that they were DUST MAGNETS! I just love how the system and cartridges got so much dust in them. A lot of the time, you’ll probably pass out having to blow the dust out of the system and cartridges (or the fumes of the solvent you’re using to clean them, whatever comes first). Thankfully when the top loader came (and every other Nintendo system after the NES), the only blowing would just be on the cartridges (and maybe the system once in a while, but far, far less common than with the toaster), and you don’t get many problems with that either today or the NES’s time. But that’s inexcusable for the amounts of time (and eventually, money) needed to keep it cleaned. Suggestion: Either have a lot of spare time to clean the NES or get the top loader (either through a garage sale or Ebay). You’re still required to spend quite some time keeping these cartridges clean, but the toaster required a hell of a lot more cleaning than the top loader did.
Because of the two problems above, I have 2 broken and very dirty NES’s. I’ve been using a top loader since. Might be luck, but I haven’t seen any problems with that yet, and I’ve had this baby for about 7 years. Should say something.
However, there is something I like about the design of the toaster; it just looks cool. It just looks very different from the many systems out there in existence (since 29/06/08). As implied, it looks like a toaster...a toaster rotated 90 degrees that is! The cartridges even look very different from the sort we saw before the Gamebox2 (Gamecube, Xbox and PS2). Instead of different variants of semi-circles or rectangles, it...well, they were rectangular shaped, but pretty tall, and at the bottom, little rectangular parts are cut off them. Pretty unique, don’t you think? The way you insert these cartridges into the toaster is that you open the lid and place it in, then press down on the cart. This does eventually lead to it breaking down if not looked after properly, but it was unique for its time (though the PS2, Xbox and their predecessors, and the Wii, have this sort of style for inserting their CD’s, but the lid opens when you press open on them, as opposed to you opening it yourself on this). But that’s just for the toaster. The top loader is like with the SMS, SNES, Genesis and N64 (even like with the 2600 but much simpler); place the cartridge onto the slot and turn it on.
So to me, the toaster will only be remembered as a cool looking design that keeps on buggering up and attracting a lot of dust to itself. How great.
As for the top loader, if it had any problems, it was the timing of its release. It was released near the time of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Could've been released earlier, as it did remedy the major problems of the toaster design.
To summarize: The NES was powerful, much more so than the 7800 and Commodore 64, but not as powerful as the SMS, however, the NES had far superior marketing to the SMS (the SMS has some of the worst marketing known to mankind, but more on that in a review of the SMS itself), and since sales were (and still are) a more important factor than power, Nintendo wins at the 8-bit era. However, the amount of cleaning, especially for the toaster, can be off-putting. If you plan on buying an NES, either get yourself a top loader or be prepared to clean often.
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