Crash and the Boys: Street Challenge
Technos | Sports | 1992

Alongside fan-favorites River City Ransom and Super Dodgeball, Crash ’n the Boys was another localization of a game in Technos’ Kunio-kun series. The game featured several Olympic-style events in an urban setting, changed from the Famicom version’s decidedly Japanese setting. Originally planned as a branding that would include other Kunio-kun localizations, no further games were released under the “Crash” moniker. -- Luke Osterritter




10NES
Nintendo | Security Chip | 1983

The dark secret behind Nintendo’s friendly overtures to third-party publishers is that the NES itself didn’t embrace all comers with open arms. The system’s core was locked away behind the 10NES security chip, creating a sort of digital gated community for development. Only those with the money and social standing to become licensed publishers were allowed to take a dip in the NES pool, as it were. Outsiders were shunned... and should they try to crack the security code, it was built in such a way as to leave those publishers legally vulnerable. As any Klingon could tell you, when Nintendo smiled, it also bared its teeth. -- Jeremy Parish




Lemmings
DMA | Sunsoft | Puzzle | 1992

Lemmings is an interesting little puzzle game from the people who would later bring us the Grand Theft Auto series, a fact that has been known to cause brain hemorrhages in the easily befuddled. A gate opens, causing “lemmings” that look more like Dr. Seuss’ Whos to fall and start walking to their death. Various jobs can be assigned to them altering their behavior temporarily, ideally in a way that will create a path for the bulk leading to an exit. The NES is one of 21 different platforms it was ported to. It is not, however, the version of choice, butchering the otherwise awesome soundtrack somewhat and using an odd tile-based approach to destroying walls, which is just plain jarring. -- Jake Alley




Little Samson
Taito | Platformer | 1992

Taito was really on fire as the NES entered its twilight years, providing the bulk of the notable “overlooked masterpieces” of the era. Little Samson is the crowning jewel, though, a deft fusion of Mega Man and Wonder Boy III sporting beautiful graphics, tight controls, and one of the highest after-market prices of any licensed, mass-produced NES game. -- Jeremy Parish




Contra Force
Konami | Platformer | 1992

If Konami had left well enough alone, Contra Force might be regarded as a pretty fun game rather than a grotesque mockery. In Japan, the game was called Arc Hound and was perfectly content to be its own thing -- a multi-character shooter in the vein of the original TMNT? -- but some genius decided to market it as a Contra game in the U.S., despite its feeling nothing like any other Contra game ever. Fans could smell the lie a mile away and soundly rejected the game... even though it’s actually pretty decent taken on its own terms. Alas, it was hoist by its own petard. -- Jeremy Parish




Gargoyle's Quest II
Capcom | Action RPG | 1992

There was nothing unusual, in the early ’90s, about seeing a Game Boy sequel to a popular NES game. But an NES sequel to a popular Game Boy game? That was something worth noticing, right before passing it over for a hot new Super NES release. Gargoyle’s Quest II arrived just a little too late in the NES’s life span to make much impact, and its portable origins probably undermined it ability to appeal to a mass audience as well. Pity, that; it was a refined and ambitious sequel to one of the best first-gen Game Boy titles and deserved better. I suppose there really is no justice for the wicked. -- Jeremy Parish




Bootlegs
Assorted Pirates | Stolen Games | 1988-2011

Hand-in-hand with Asia’s Famiclones and other unlicensed NES goods came the software equivalent: Bootleg games. Where the hardware was at least somewhat defensible, especially now that Nintendo’s patents on NES tech have expired, you can’t make that claim for the majority of pirate software, which was outright stolen. Reprogramming usually went just far enough to change the copyright indicia on the title screen. But as carts grew in capacity and production prices dropped, pirates became more ambitious, cramming dozens of tiny early NES games onto single carts. This launched an arms race to see who could get more titles onto a single cart, which resulted in different bootleggers promoting enormous multicarts with thousands of games... which, in reality, was usually the same twelve games recompiled with useless minor variants that were more likely than not to render said game unplayable. But hey, it’s the size that counts, right? -- Jeremy Parish




Mega Man 5
Capcom | Platformer | 1992

Mega Man 5's big claim to fame is being the least innovative game in the series. Mega Man 2 gave us a wonderfully useful weapon selection. 3 gave us sliding. 4 introduced the charged shot that arguably ruined everything. Even 6 had that neat power-armor gimmick going for Rush. 5, however, was the same basic experience as 4, except for a selection of new bosses, which seem even less inspired than usual. Oh, and there was a power-up that summoned a bird to kill everything on the screen with no user input needed, if that counts for anything.-- Jake Alley




Power Blade 2
Taito | Platformer | 1992

Another late-era Taito rarity, the sequel to Power Blade doesn’t command quite the same prices as Little Samson, but it doesn’t come cheap, either. In terms of the game itself, as follow-ups go, it’s fairly unremarkable. Curiously enough, it was published as Captain Saver in Japan, treated as a completely unrelated work to the original Power Blazer, since it carried over the refinements and more “realistic” visual overhaul that Taito applied to the first game’s U.S. release. -- Jeremy Parish




U-Force
Brøderbund | Motion Peripheral | 1989

Of all the superfluous peripherals to be inflicted on NES owners, The U-Force may very well be the single most useless one of all. While ostensibly a predecessor to modern-day motion controls, in practice the U-Force was an unmitigated disaster. The problem? None of the games available for NES were designed around motion controls, rendering the U-Force little more than a very efficient way for gamers to play poorly and look stupid doing it. -- Jeremy Parish




Totally Rad
Jaleco | Platformer | 1992

No doubt modern gamers look at this screen capture and assume the hero is the armored soldier who looks an awful lot like Halo’s Master Chief. But you’re thinking in modern terms, where heroes are empowered and designed to be cool. In the NES days, heroes were designed for kid appeal and designed to be, well, rad; the hero in this scene is the one who looks ready to gleam the cube or whatever. Totally Rad was actually a reworking of a hopelessly goofy Famicom game called Magic John, with a facelift steeped in the early ’90s idea of badassedness, all neon colors and Valley Girl slang in the manual. A year later, grunge music would expose that as a sham, but for a brief moment, it truly was a day for the likes of Totally Rad. -- Jeremy Parish




Mighty Final Fight
Capcom | Brawler | 1992

As Capcom’s final attempt to reinvent an arcade smash for NES, Mighty Final Fight was both fun and interesting, adopting a cartoonish appearance to compensate for the system’s technical limitations. Sadly, it was generally overlooked in favor of the Super NES adaptation, which had superior graphics to this 8-bit game but also was a lot less enjoyable to play. -- Jeremy Parish




Super Spy Hunter
Sunsoft | Combat Racing | 1992

This sequel takes the “James Bond in a tricked out supercar” concept of its predecessor and runs with it. By adding stages, hit points, huge boss fights and a plethora of vehicle upgrades and power ups, Super Spy Hunter blends its arcade roots with NES sensibilities and almost becomes a vertical shoot-’em-up in the process. -- Ben Langberg




Battletoads & Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team
Rare | Tradewest | 1993

The game may declare them the ultimate team, but Billy and Jimmy Lee are clearly tagging along with the Battletoads in this beat-’em-up. Rare only used the Double Dragon license to throw in the Lee brothers and a handful of familiar faces. The gameplay and stage design is pure Battletoads, obscene difficulty included. And since the game was ported to the SNES, Genesis, and Game Boy in time for Christmas, it remains one of the most ubiquitous of its genre, but hardly one of the best. -- Wesley Fenlon




Bubble Bobble 2
Taito | Puzzle | 1993

Not to be mistaken for Rainbow Islands, this extremely obscure direct sequel to infectious NES classic Bubble Bobble is another chapter in Taito’s “crazy rare and expensive late NES-era” blitzkrieg. Though an ostensible improvement in several ways over the original, one doubts Bubble Bubble Part 2 would command the same nostalgic affection as the original even if it weren’t supremely rare. The endless looping music is nowhere near as maddening this time around, you see. -- Jeremy Parish




Fire 'N Ice
Tecmo | Puzzle Platformer | 1993

You wouldn’t know it from the title, but Fire ‘N Ice is the sequel to early arcade-to-NES favorite Solomon’s Key. It naturally boasts the improvements you’d expect from a sequel published nearly a decade after the original: The graphics and audio are hugely improved, and the puzzle-solving portions rely less on trial-and-error and more on accessible design. -- Jeremy Parish




Yoshi's Cookie
Nintendo | Puzzle | 1993

Not to be outdone by Nintendo’s renaissance plumber, Mario’s faithful reptilian steed found himself moonlighting outside the platform genre as a pastry chef. Actually, wait... that’s not quite right. Mario seems to be the one baking the cookies here. Yoshi is just around to... eat them, it seems. At any rate, the game is centered around matching like cookies in a row, at which point they disappear; lasting as long as possible in normal mode, or clearing the entire screen in puzzle mode. Come on, Yoshi. This is why they always stick you on the roof by yourself. -- Luke Osterritter




Bonk's Adventure
Hudson | Platformer | 1994

There’s something quietly heartbreaking about seeing NEC’s erstwhile TurboGrafx-16 mascot slumming on the NES. It sent a clearer message than any concession speech could have: Nintendo won. Soul-rending as it was for TG16 fans, you feel sorriest for poor Bonk; the guy was designed to show off the sprite-pushing capabilities of NEC’s hardware and was literally diminished by the move down to an 8-bit GPU. -- Jeremy Parish




The Flintstones
Taito | Platformer | 1994

The final entry in Taito’s crazy-expensive late-era NES lineup, there’s considerable debate as to whether or not this game was even officially released in the U.S. By all accounts, it’s not a particularly compelling title—surprising, given the overall excellence of Taito’s contemporary output—meaning this is one of those “collectable” titles that certain people salivate over simply to complete their libraries rather than for any innate quality of the game itself. --Jeremy Parish




Mega Man 6
Capcom | Nintendo | Platformer | 1994

Capcom took a couple of years off from the classic Mega Man series to focus on developing X, and the break made for a solid return to form that tends to go unloved by the gaming masses. Heck, even Capcom didn’t love it; Nintendo ended up picking it up for U.S. release. While it’s unsurprising in every regard, Mega Man 6 looks and sounds great, and the branching stage designs feel a lot more inspired than MM5’s... even if the bosses and story aren’t. -- Jeremy Parish