Final Fantasy III, Famicom

The third Final Fantasy game was released for the Nintendo Famicom in Japan in 1990. It wasn’t officially translated into English until many years after its initial release, so a variety of fan translations exist online, and their quality varies wildly. The TransTeam translation I found to be pretty good although the font and text alignment isn’t perfect.

The game starts with you naming four characters, and these form the basis of your party. Combat begins almost immediately and is turn-based. Thankfully it’s easy to get to grips with, if a little slow, and is quite challenging from the get-go.

One really cool thing about Final Fantasy III is that you can change the “jobs” of your party members. Choose between Fighter, Monk, Black Wizard, White Wizard, Red Wizard, and general purpose “Onion Kid” (don’t ask me…). You can change jobs at any time although you have to unequip everything you’re carrying to do it, because certain jobs can only use certain equipment. There’s a thoughtful “Remove All” option in the menu, but it’s still a pain to do.

Final Fantasy III reminds me of the classic Final Fantasy Legend on the black and white Game Boy, with its limited dialogue, ‘chibi’ character style and sentimental, warbley music. Except this time it’s in colour. And it looks and sounds lovely even to this day.

Final Fantasy III was the last of the Famicom Final Fantasy games – the baton was then taken by the Super Nintendo for the next three releases.

More: Final Fantasy III 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

Super Mario Bros., NES

The successor to the 1983 arcade game Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. was released in Japan and North America in 1985, although it wasn’t released in Europe until 1987.

It is considered by many gamers to be one of the greatest video games of all time, and I wouldn’t want to dispute that assessment.

Super Mario Bros. was a gigantic leap ahead for Nintendo at the time, and it expanded massively on the ideas and themes of the original Mario Bros. (which was – let’s face it – quite a limited game overall). In this game Mario (or Luigi – if playing two-player) must make his way across a series of scrolling, platform-based levels; bouncing on the heads of enemies; collecting coins; picking up power-ups (such as mushrooms, which make you bigger; essentially giving you an extra life); and eventually sliding down a flag pole at the end of a level (the higher you slide down it, the more bonus points you are awarded). Occasionally you’ll get to fight a mini boss battle; or slide down a pipe into a secret area; or pick up a ‘Fire Flower’ (which allows you to shoot at enemies).

While none of that might sound very exciting by today’s standards, back in 1985 Super Mario Bros. was revolutionary. It revolutionised platform gaming with its precise controls and brilliantly-designed levels. It raised the bar in the entire video-gaming industry in 1985 – everyone who saw it and played it knew that it was something special. Something better than most leading arcade games could offer at the time… And it remains that to this day: a game marking the transition from the old style of archaic video games, and the new style of console games that were extremely high quality.

The original NES version of Super Mario Bros. sold over 40 million physical copies worldwide during its first run (29 million in North America alone), although many of these were ‘pack-in’ titles sold with a new console. Those sales still count, though, which made it THE best-selling video game of all time until it was usurped by (sigh) Wii Sports (and other games later on).

More: Super Mario Bros. on Wikipedia

Prince of Persia, NES

Developed by Motivetime for Virgin Games and released in 1992, the NES version of Prince of Persia is unfortunately another flawed conversion.

My main gripe is with platform edges. Normally in Prince of Persia the main character should shuffle slowly to a platform edge and stop (if using the slow walk method). Then you can turn him around and press down to climb down off the ledge. In this: stopping the poor feller from falling off the edge to his doom is sketchy at best; at worst: a poorly implemented game-ruiner…

Another weird feature of the NES version of Prince of Persia is that the levels scroll sideways. Only slightly, but at the scale the game is presented this feature I guess is necessary. It does mean, though, that enemies can hide off-screen and surprise you, if you’re not expecting them.

The levels in this are faithful to the original in essence, but do have some subtle (and some not-so-subtle) changes to them. These changes neither enhance nor detract from the game, but if you are an experienced Prince of Persia player you will probably notice some differences.

Overall: Prince of Persia on the NES is not a bad game, but it certainly isn’t the real deal.

More: Prince of Persia on Wikipedia

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Spy Hunter, NES

The 1987 Nintendo Entertainment System conversion of Spy Hunter was handled by Sunsoft and is an excellent addition to the Spy Hunter family.

In some respects this is better than the arcade original, because it’s not quite so mind-bendingly difficult… That said: it takes a lot of effort to get to the speedboat section, which I think would put it out of reach of many gamers.

Otherwise: all the expected Spy Hunter features are there: vertically-scrolling split roads, switchblade wheels on enemy cars, chasing helicopters, blindingly fast speeds, and unique ‘van docking’ to get weapons upgrades.

NES Spy Hunter is well worth a play if you’re a fan of the original or just like mad driving games.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spy_Hunter

Kirby’s Adventure, NES

Kirby’s Adventure is the second game in the Kirby series (after Kirby’s Dream Land on the Game Boy), and – boy – doesn’t it look good in colour?

Not only does it look better in colour, but this NES version of a Kirby adventure is more involving – and much more fun – than its predecessor.

Kirby’s Adventure was developed by HAL Laboratory and published by Nintendo in 1993. It has since been re-made and re-released a number of times, such is its popularity.

More: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kirby%27s_Adventure