Conker’s Bad Fur Day, Nintendo 64

Conker’s Bad Fur Day was a surprising 2001 release – on the Nintendo 64 – for British developer Rare, in collaboration with Nintendo.

What is surprising about it is that it is an “adult” game – meaning: it contains cartoon characters behaving in ways that you don’t normally see in a Nintendo game, like vomiting on people’s shoes, making sexual innuendo, and using mild swear words.

The game begins with a cinematic Clockwork Orange-style scene, with Conker (a squirrel) looking over the top of a glass of milk as the camera slowly tracks backwards while a pseudo Beethoven musical score warbles away in the background. You know – or at least should know – at this point what kind of game this is going to be… And that is: extremely satirical, and with maybe a bit of a screw loose…

When Conker’s Bad Fur Day eventually gets going the first thing you have to do is get rid of Conker’s hangover, which is an unusual way of introducing a player to the game. Then you go on a surreal 3D platform adventure, full of Pythonesque characters, toilet humour, silly and poor taste jokes, endless tasks and puzzles, tons of film references, and of course the occasional boss battle (including one where you fight a giant turd).

Conker’s Bad Fur Day is a game that will appeal to adults who like puerile humour, and also to children as a “forbidden” game that “must not be played under any circumstances”, but they all do… It’s actually not that bad in terms of its ‘adult’ nature, and doesn’t contain anything too contentious, which is why Nintendo allowed Rare to make the game in the first place.

More: Conker’s Bad Fur Day on Wikipedia

Mario Tennis: Power Tour, Game Boy Advance

This 2005 tennis game is one of my favourite sports games of all time.

Mario Tennis: Power Tour was developed by Camelot for Nintendo and is known as Mario Power Tennis in Europe and Australia, but I’m sticking to the original title.

What makes this game so good are two things: one – the single-player ‘Career’ mode (“Power Tour“) is like playing a tennis-based RPG, and two: the game of tennis here I would say is second only to the mighty Super Tennis in terms of playable tennis games. Arguably even better!

Mario Tennis: Power Tour is a 2D tennis game, played at an overhead, three-quarter perspective. You can play one-off Exhibition games; begin the aforementioned career; link up your Game Boy Advance for multiplayer games; or play any of the minigames that you’ve unlocked in career mode.

In career mode you choose to play as a either a boy or a girl and enrol into a tennis academy. Here you learn how to improve your game in both singles and doubles matches, and also get to meet and converse with a variety of colourful characters who will either help or hinder you. As your career progresses and you start to win matches you will be able to put experience points into abilities, and unlock new skills – much like you see in most RPGs. This superb single-player career game is very much a tennis Role-Playing Game, and has some similarities with Camelot‘s RPG series, Golden Sun.

Mario Tennis: Power Tour is an engrossing and fun game, and also one of the best tennis games ever made. If you like tennis and haven’t played it: you might want to rectify that soon.

More: Mario Tennis: Power Tour on Wikipedia

SimCity, Super Nintendo

The 1991 Super Nintendo version of Will Wright‘s classic SimCity was developed by Nintendo themselves, so is somewhat different to previous versions. It’s actually one of the best versions of SimCity around.

SimCity is about city-building, land/power/transportation management, taxation, and dealing with natural disasters. Basically: keeping your growing (or maybe even declining) population happy.

The viewpoint is overhead, and you build your city by clearing land and laying tiles on the scrolling landscape. You build roads, rail tracks, residential areas, industrial areas, and commercial areas – not to mention your own house – and must attract people to come live with you. When you reach a certain size you can then build more advanced structures, such as airports and sports stadia. Of course, you need power stations and police departments, and maybe even a port if you’ve got some coastline.

Nintendo‘s involvement added a lot of nice touches to SimCity on the SNES that aren’t in other versions, not least of which is a Bowser attack on Tokyo! Aping the Godzilla attack of the original game… Or the golden Mario statue awarded for reaching a half million population. Or the special buildings that are awarded for reaching certain milestones, such as casinos, amusement parks, and expo centres. Some of these ideas were incorporated into SimCity 2000 later, so it was prudent of Maxis to approve Nintendo‘s own development of their precious game, in exchange for new ideas.

A regular game of SimCity is an open-ended ‘sandbox’ affair, where you choose a random map and just build on it until you run out of steam. There are also six different disaster scenarios to “beat” – earthquake, pollution, crimewave, nuclear meltdown, coastal flooding, and the aforementioned monster attack.

Not as boring as it looks, SimCity is a classic SNES game and still a lot of fun to play.

More: SimCity on Wikipedia

Super Mario Bros. 3, NES

Of the three Super Mario Bros. games released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, this 1988 release must surely rate as the best.

Directed by Takashi Tezuka and produced by Shigeru Miyamoto, Super Mario Bros. 3 really takes the Mario series to a whole new level, with new techniques, gimmicks, and secrets, as well as the usual high standard of finesse and charm.

Super Mario Bros. 3 forgets that Super Mario Bros. 2 ever existed and instead goes back to what made Super Mario Bros. so enjoyable to play. And that is: challenging, left to right-scrolling levels, and precise control over Mario (or Luigi – the two-player mode came back). In this game Mario could (for the first time) slide down slopes; pick up and throw special blocks; freely climb vines, and also fly, float, swim faster, and throw hammers (!) using collectable power-ups.

Individual levels form part of eight themed ‘worlds’, and a map allows you to choose which level to take on next (another new feature at the time), and although the game is still relatively linear it does at least give you the occasional alternative route. Plus: you can now see secret areas opening up on the main map, which is quite exciting (and something that we later saw expanded in the phenomenal Super Nintendo sequel to this, Super Mario World).

Super Mario Bros. 3 also introduces bonus mini-games into the mix and these allow the player to win extra lives or power-ups which can be used later during a level.

Playing it now, there is no doubting that Super Mario Bros. 3 is an amazing game that has stood the test of time well. In some respects it plays a bit like a prototype of the peerless Super Mario World, which indeed it is – a prototype of that game, albeit one that sold almost 20 million physical copies worldwide!

More: Super Mario Bros. 3 on Wikipedia

Super Mario Bros. 2, NES

The North American release of Super Mario Bros. 2 was controversial because it was not the same Super Mario Bros. 2 that was released in Japan – it was a re-skinned game; made into a Mario game, because the Nintendo bigwigs thought the original was too difficult for western gamers.

And the result is the game you see here. It looks like Mario from a distance, but when you drill down to it, there are quite a few differences. In this there is no two-player option. Players can instead choose to play each stage as one of four different characters – Mario (of course), Luigi, Toad (the mushroom), and Princess Peach. Each character can run and jump, and climb, and do all the usual Mario-style actions, but they also each have a unique ability. Mario can jump the farthest; Luigi – the highest; Peach can float, and Toad can pick up items quickly.

Also unlike the previous game: the player can explore both left and right – as well as vertically – rather than being forced to always move left to right. Enemies are no longer beaten by jumping on them. Instead: they can be ridden on by jumping on them. And if you do want/need to beat them up you have to throw objects at them instead.

Super Mario Bros. 2 contains twenty different levels in total, spread over seven themed worlds. Each world has different enemies, plus a boss battle at the end.

Although this version of Super Mario Bros. 2 has since gone on to be regarded as a bit of a retro-gaming classic, it is easy to see why it garnered some criticism at the time. It does deviate from many of the Mario conventions we’ve come to recognise, although it does retain the precise controls, cute graphics, and charm of the Mario series as a whole, so is well worth a play.

More: Super Mario Bros. 2 on Wikipedia

Super Mario Bros. 2, Famicom Disk System

Super Mario Bros. 2 was initially released on the Famicom Disk System in Japan in 1986, but was not released in North America or Europe in its original form, as you might have expected. It was instead decided that the gameplay was “too difficult” for Western gamers (and also the video games market in North America was undergoing a crash at the time), so Nintendo decided not to release it in English language territories – at least until it was later re-branded as Super Mario Bros.: The Lost levels – and released a different Super Mario Bros.2 in North America instead.

This ‘lost’ version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is just as insanely difficult as the legend describes. It plays very similarly to the first Super Mario Bros. game, but has a variety of new features that seem designed to trick you. Like black mushrooms. You learn not to pick those up quite early in the game… The level designs this time have been designed to make you tear your hair out too. Make one wrong move, and you’re dead. Some sections have easier routes, but these are often hidden and require Mario (or Luigi) to find a hidden block to open them up.

The whole game seems like it was designed with “professional players” in mind. This original, Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 is certainly not for beginners. Which is why it is so much loved by speed-runners and modern game pros now. It’s one of the toughest challenges in gaming.

The game sold over seven million physical copies in Japan in its first year of release.

More: Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels on Wikipedia