Retro Video Game Collecting

Because every game is eventually retro.

Tag Archives: "Nintendo"

Game Boy Wonder

Posted on 30 June, 2016  in Game Boy, Nintendo



By today’s standards, the Game Boy seems simple and primitive — a relic of a time long gone by.  It had a monochrome, dot-matrix display that relied on natural light; it offered just two face buttons for input, in addition to the directional pad and little-used “SELECT” and “START” keys; it was capable only of 2D raster-based visuals (with one noteworthy exception).  Retro indeed.


And yet, the original 1989 handheld from Nintendo and its direct descendants went on to be one of the best-selling game devices, paving the way for the global saturation mobile phone games enjoy today.  It introduced Tetris to a truly mass audience for the first time, cementing that iconic puzzler as one of the greatest games ever released.  It gave us the first Kirby title in a long-running series.  It gave us one of the best Legend of Zelda titles (the best, according to some).  And it did all of this with some remarkable hardware configuration, using technology that was already a decade old when it first hit the gaming world.


You’ll learn a lot about the technical side of Game Boy and just how ingenious it was as a gaming platform, as well as a challenge to programmers, by watching these videos by JackTech.  They’re on the long side, but definitely worth your time.





Lamentations of a Former Virtual Boy Owner

Posted on 29 June, 2016  in Nintendo


Of my many regrets in life, easily the worst I have as a gamer is that I lost my Virtual Boy.  Yes, I was one of the just over 700,000 or so people in the world to own an actual piece of Nintendo’s greatest failure.  It was a Christmas gift in 1995, from my overworked mother whom I now know could not afford it, but wanted to make up for what had been an awful year for our family.


For all the criticism levied against this clunky early attempt at 3D gaming (don’t call it VR, because it really doesn’t meet the definition) I absolutely loved it.  Mario’s Tennis remains one of my all-time favorite games — in my memory, anyway.  I also got a great deal of enjoyment out of the simplistic Virtual League Baseball and Golf.  The only other title I owned was Teleroboxer, which I did not like at all, owing to its steep difficulty.  I never did get to try either of what are considered the “best” games: Mario Clash and Virtual Boy Wario Land.


I took the Virtual Boy with me when I went off to college, but unfortunately my university experience included a few years in a fraternity house, and it was probably destroyed or stolen around that time.  By then, I had become something of a lapsed gamer.  In what was the other great error of my gaming life, I sold most of my NES, Super NES, and Nintendo 64 games for spending money, along with the N64 console itself.  (Fortunately, I still have my NES, SNES, and various Game Boy consoles.)  One of my goals as a collector today is to rebuild that lost collection, most of which can be done fairly easily and at a reasonable cost.


The Virtual Boy is a different story.  Because so few were made, prices can be quite steep; I’ve never seen one for less than $200, and they often don’t include vital accessories like the controller and AC adapter.  (It can run on batteries, but this is inconvenient and expensive.)  Games can be hard to come by as well, particularly Wario Land.  I still have my copy of Teleroboxer for some reason, though.


So much has been written on Virtual Boy already, and I have nothing meaningful to add until I re-acquire one for myself. is the ideal resource for any collector interested in learning more about this whimsical gaming machine.  I also heartily recommend this excellent written history published earlier this year on NintendoLife.  It’s a real eye-opener on a console best known for creating eye strain.





Wii-Vaporware: The Uncertain Future of Nintendo’s Motion Control Games

Posted on 28 June, 2016  in Nintendo, Wii, Wii U

Credit: Nintendo


It’s hard to imagine a world in which Super Mario Bros. was lost and forgotten a few years after its release.  Even if Nintendo had failed to re-release it in some form on nearly every subsequent platform it produced, there are still perfectly functional SMB cartridges and Nintendo Entertainment System consoles and NES clones to allow for continued enjoyment of this landmark game.  Plenty of PC emulators exist to offer this and other classic games in a dubiously-legal format.  We don’t have to worry about losing Super Mario Bros. forever.


Incredibly, we may face a situation in the not-too-distant future wherein the best-selling home console game of all time is essentially unplayable, remaining only in the memories of players and YouTube videos.


Wii Sports and hundreds of other motion-controlled games for Wii and Wii U have an uncertain future.  The NX, Nintendo’s replacement for the not-quite-good-enough Wii U, arrives next year.  At some point around that platform’s arrival, Nintendo will cease manufacture of Wii and Wii U consoles.  Unless the NX maintains full backwards compatibility with both of those systems and, crucially, the Wii Remote controllers, it will effectively trigger a time bomb that will effectively kill all Nintendo games that depend on motion controls.


This is purely speculative, but it is a point worth considering, as Justin Davis writes for IGN: what happens if these games are trapped forever on the Wii and Wii U?  Within 30 years, it’s likely most of the original Wii and Wii U consoles will have been junked, no longer functioning properly, or completely incompatible with whatever video display / TV format is in use by then.  Optical drives will almost certainly have been a relic for decades at that point.  Will there be enough demand in the retro / classic gaming hobby to maintain them?  And what of Wii remotes and sensor bars?  Will a manufacturer continue to make them available?


The pre-CD era of gaming is well suited for the retro collector, as the 8-bit and 16-bit consoles from Nintendo, SEGA, Atari, and others were solid-state.  They have no moving parts, aside from the odd power or eject buttons, and they are easily renovated or recreated.  Disc-based systems, on the other hand, are innately more complex.  So far, we haven’t seen a market for cloned PlayStation 1 or SEGA Saturn systems, though many of the original consoles remain in use.  More importantly, a significant number of games for those systems have been re-released over the years and can be easily emulated on modern platforms, with ordinary controllers.


Motion controls are a different beast, and thus the concern for the longevity of Wii and Wii U software.  As Davis notes, VR may hold the key to preserving the gems of those generations, assuming Nintendo has any interest.  But it’s still very early to worry about this problem; if nothing else, the history of gaming has shown us that eventually, technology provides a solution.


That being said, I plan to keep my Wii and Wii U consoles in pristine shape for many years to come.



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Nintendo’s Lost IP, Part 2.1: 8-Bit is Enough

Posted on 5 June, 2016  in Family Computer, Nintendo, Nintendo Entertainment System


Last week, I chronicled some of the abandoned franchises from Nintendo’s arcade era. Today, I’m looking at the games from the Nintendo Entertainment System and its Japanese progenitor, the Family Computer (Famicom).  For various reasons, these titles never saw much love from either fans or the Big N — and their characters and settings fell into obscurity.


I’m pursuing this topic as E3 approaches, in response to criticism of Nintendo over the years for “playing it safe” and sticking to established franchises, rather than creating new IP or resurrecting forgotten characters and settings.  If Nintendo wants to, they’ve got a pretty wide range of options for bringing out the dead on the mysterious NX next year!


On with the list:



Credit: Nintendo / Strategy Wiki

Introduced: 1983, Mahjong (Famicom)
Latest entry: 1984, 4 Nin Uchi Mahjong (Famicom)
One of the very earliest home console titles from Nintendo, Mahjong was also a top seller on the Famicom. Rather than following the “Shanghai” rules most of us are familiar with, it resembles the Chinese tile game with rules similar to the European / American card game rummy. An entry in the Vs. Arcade series was produced, as well as a four-player sequel the following year; possibly making this Nintendo’s very first four-player game.  At any rate, given the wealth of mahjong-style offerings out there, I see no reason Nintendo would want to revisit the franchise.



Credit: Nintendo / GameFAQs

Gomoku Narabe Renju
Introduced: 1983, Gomoku Narabe Renju (Famicom)
Another very early Famicom title based on an “IRL” game. The title translates to “five points in a row” and it would be familiar to players who enjoy board games like Othello, Go, and Connect Four. Nintendo doesn’t own any trademarks or copyrights on the name, which would be equivalent to trying to trademark “checkers” for example, so there’s nothing to be gained here. It was re-released on Japan’s Wii Virtual Console in 2006, and you will likely recognize the sound effects from other early NES / Famicom games!



Credit: Nintendo / Nintendo Wikia

Family BASIC
Introduced: 1984, Family BASIC (Famicom)
Latest entry: 1985, Family Basic V3 (Famicom)
One of Nintendo’s most creative, ambitious periods was 1982 – 1987, which saw the launch of the NES / Famicom era. Only then, and frankly never again, could a company like Nintendo attempt something as bold as a home computer programming kit, complete with peripheral keyboard, to use on an eight-bit video game console. Can you imagine Nintendo launching a “game” for learning Python or C# on Wii U?  (Actually, someone else did!)




Credit: Nintendo / Giant Bomb

Devil World
Introduced: 1984, Devil World (Famicom / NES)
Sort of a Pac-Man clone with religious iconography, Devil World is the only game designed by Shigeru Miyamoto to never see a North American release. Nintendo of America’s infamous puritanical policies regarding religious game content kept it away from these shores as it contains power-ups that resemble Christian crosses. (I don’t know whether Christians would be offended or mystified by a game in which a winged dragon pushes a cross, shoots fireballs and collects ice cream cones in an effort to defeat Satan.) Our European and Japanese friends can enjoy it today on Virtual Console; unlike, say, The Last Story, there hasn’t been an online movement to bring it to America, so I doubt we’ll ever play it here.



Credit: Nintendo / Nintendo Wikia

F-1 Race
Introduced: 1984, F-1 Race (Famicom)
Latest entry: 1990, F-1 Race (Game Boy)
This is a series with a brief but interesting history. The first title was a not-too-bad looking Pole Position clone; its later Game Boy port was an early four-player handheld game, provided everyone had a Game Pak, four Game Link cables and a four-player adapter (included with some SKUs). But rewind a bit and things take a strange turn with 1987’s Famicom Disk System-only Famicom Grand Prix: F1 Race and its 1988 successor Famicom Grand Prix II: 3D Hot Rally. The former features Mario on the cover, standing next to a Formula One-style open-wheel racer; but this is no proto-Mario Kart. Instead, we have a top-down racer similar toR.C. Pro-Am, and Mario’s only appearance is at the end of races in the winner’s circle (at least, I think that’s supposed to be Mario). 3D Hot Rallyreturns to the first title’s camera behind the car, with a stereoscopic 3D twist using the bizarre Famicom 3D System, an attempt to mimic Sega’s Master System 3D glasses kit. While it might not be a bad port for 3DS, I imagine Nintendo just wants to focus its racing efforts on Mario Kart and not deal with any lawsuits from the Formula 1 racing circuit retroactively protecting its trademarks.



Credit: Nintendo

Clu Clu Land
Introduced: 1984, Clu Clu Land (Famicom / NES)
Latest entry: 1990, Clu Clu Land D (Famicom Disk System)
A pretty terrible early NES title which you can play on the Wii U Virtual Console if you desire. This odd action / maze / puzzle hybrid’s greatest legacy is that some of its assets were used in creating The Legend of Zeldaf or NES.  Bubbles, the spines-free sea urchin heroine, is as one-dimensional a character as they come.  Clu Clu Land saw a sort-of spiritual sequel in the Game Boy Advance title DK: King of Swing, but it’s probably safe to say there’s nothing more to be done with the concept.



Credit: Nintendo

Introduced: 1984, Pinball (Famicom / NES)
Fun fact: this fun but forgettable early NES title was produced and directed by none other than Satoru Iwata. Since it has a mini-game involving Mario rescuing Pauline, is this technically a Donkey Kong spin-off?








Credit: Nintendo

Duck Hunt
Introduced: 1984, Duck Hunt (Famicom / NES)
A modern sequel might have been a good Wii U title, but we’ll have to settle for the smartly ported Virtual Console edition.  That release, of course, was timed to coincide with the return of the iconic dog and duck in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U.  As for a lack of sequels over the last 30 years, I suspect the modern Nintendo of America doesn’t want to market a game in which killing animals is the objective.  Maybe they could replace them with robot ducks or something.  As long as we get to shoot the dog…




Credit: Nintendo

Hogan’s Alley
Introduced: 1984, Hogan’s Alley (Famicom / NES)
Another early Light Gun Game Pak which I owned and loved. It lives on in a few WarioWare titles as a mini-game, and in the real world as an FBI training facility. That place got its name from an earlier shooting range, which in turn borrowed its name from a setting in the 19th Century comic strip “The Yellow Kid”. So, in a manner of speaking, this is Nintendo’s oldest IP!




Credit: Nintendo / EMU Paradise

Ice Climber
Introduced: 1985, Ice Climber (Famicom / NES)
Nana and Popo did not return in the Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS and Wii U, except in trophy form.  You can still play this early Nintendo platformer on Virtual Console if you you hate yourself, since it is probably the worst NES / Famicom game Nintendo developed and released on its own.  The premise, visuals, music, etc. are fine; the controls, however, are so awful the game is practically unplayable except for those with the knack for learning them.

Also, the Famicom version featured clubbing baby seals as part of the gameplay.



This list is getting pretty long, so I’ll cut it off here and be back next week with even more strange and amusing examples of Nintendo’s lost IP!

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Zelda, E3, and Nintendo’s Last Stand

Posted on 3 June, 2016  in Nintendo, Wii U

Image of Link from The Legend of Zelda

Credit: Nintendo


This week, I was invited to join the awesome crew over at RadioFreeRadio for their live weekly pop culture show Popped!  We talked The Legend of Zelda, specifically its 30th anniversary and its frequently-delayed upcoming game, which Nintendo says will be the only playable title at its E3 area.


Enjoy the show, and be sure to check out RadioFreeRadio, available streaming live and free on the website or on their mobile app!




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Nintendo’s Lost IP, Part 1: Arcade Classified

Posted on 29 May, 2016  in Nintendo


As I write this shortly before E3 2016, Nintendo is having a rough year.  Production of major upcoming titles for the Wii U has all but ceased.  The 3DS is in a downturn of its own.  And Nintendo is unwilling to tell its clamoring fan base anything at all about its next platform, code named NX.  The gaming world essentially has no idea what Nintendo is doing — and, some might say, neither does Nintendo.


With the NX on the horizon, there is hope Nintendo can right its ship and start bringing more great games to the fray.  If there’s one thing Nintendo has always done right, it’s create and grow fantastic franchises and universes, based on its own ideas.  Many of the all-time best-selling series live in the Nintendo fold, from Super Mario to Pokémon and The Legend of Zelda.


That said, there are plenty of other Nintendo franchises that seem to have fallen by the wayside — a gold mine of gaming history just waiting to be exploited.  I thought it might be fun to look at some of their lesser-known and long-dormant IP, to see if there’s anything worth resurrecting.  We begin with Nintendo’s early arcade days, littered with now-extinct franchises.



A Wild Gunman electro-mechanical arcade light gun shooter cabinet, from 1974

Credit: The International Arcade Museum at Museum of the Game

Wild Gunman
Introduced: 1974, Wild Gunman (arcade)
Latest entry: 1984, Wild Gunman (Famicom / NES)
The original was technically not really a video game as much as it was an electronic light gun target practice amusement device. But the NES adaptation was a legitimate NES Zapper game, limited as it was. The title made a cameo appearance of sorts in a Game Boy Advance WarioWaregame, but this doesn’t count. The Wii seemed like an ideal platform for a revival of target shooters like Wild Gunman’s spiritual descendants such as Time Crisis and Virtua Cop, but in spite of the Wii Zapper accessory, that genre never really took off again.  That said, you can now play the NES version of Wild Gunman with a Wii Remote via the Wii U Virtual Console.



Banner logo for Space Fever

Credit: Nintendo / Before Mario

Space Fever

Introduced: 1979, Space Fever (arcade)
A shameless rip-off of Space Invaders and totally not worth revisiting. Apparently there was a “sequel” built into the Game Boy Camera, but we all know how popular that was.




A Sheriff arcade flyer

Credit: Nintendo / Giant Bomb

Introduced: 1979, Sheriff (arcade)
Latest entry: 1979, Sheriff 2 (arcade)
One of Miyamoto’s early projects as an artist, and mostly forgotten; basically a Robotron 2084 clone. Like many of the games listed here, it was featured as a mini-game in the WarioWare series decades later.



Detail of the Monkey Magic arcade cabinet marquee

Credit: Before Mario

Monkey Magic
Introduced: 1979, Monkey Magic (arcade)
A Breakout clone. For all the accusations against Sony and Microsoft of stealing Nintendo’s ideas, in its early days as a video game developer and publisher, the Big N was releasing plenty of unoriginal titles itself. Not really much more to say about this game; maybe it was folded into theDonkey Kong series?




Space Firebird arcade marquee

Credit: The International Arcade Museum at Museum of the Game

Space Firebird
Introduced: 1980, Space Firebird (arcade)
Latest entry: 1981, Space Demon (arcade)
Another game designed by Miyamoto before he was famous, and highly derivative of Gaplus. I’m uncertain whether it was related in any way to the anime Space Firebird 2772, which released at around the same time, but the arcade title’s hard-to-find sequel would suggest otherwise. It seems like an open-ended space shooter could be fertile ground for a Nintendo revival, but Star Fox sort of fills that void and it probably needs a new title before any other spacey shooters come back.



Radar Scope U.S. arcade flyer

Credit: Nintendo / Kill Screen

Radar Scope
Introduced: 1979, Radar Scope (arcade)
Ahh yes, the failure that saved Nintendo. Miyamoto told Kotaku in 2013 that he was unsatisfied with Zelda II: The Adventure of Link when asked whether he’d ever made any “bad games”. However, by all accounts, Miyamoto’s much earlier arcade title Radar Scope was poorly received by American arcade gamers and it nearly led to financial ruin for Nintendo, or so the story goes. At any rate, Miyamoto’s great failure essentially launched his career; legend has it he was tasked with coming up with a new game to repurpose 2,000 or so unwanted Radar Scope cabinets, using the same hardware. The result: Donkey Kong. But what of the original game? Well, it’s nothing special — basically a Galaxian / Galaga clone, but given its unusual display angle, it seems ripe for a return on the 3DS.




Heli Fire cocktail and stand-up arcade cabinets

Credit: Nintendo / Game Room Junkies

Heli Fire
Introduced: 1980, Heli Fire (arcade)
Yet another clone, similar to the early arcade classic Sea Wolf, this is said to be an especially rare arcade cabinet. We already have Steel Diver as a decent submarine combat game, and it has a sequel, so a Heli Fire remake is probably unnecessary.




A Sky Skipper arcade flyer

Credit: Nintendo / The Arcade Blogger

Sky Skipper
Introduced: 1981, Sky Skipper (arcade)
I have absolutely no idea what is going on here.  The Arcade Blogger describes it thusly:

…the game sees the player controlling a bi-plane as ‘Mr. You’, on a mission to rescue various members of a royal family scattered around four levels, whilst avoiding gorillas (sound familiar?) along the way. The bi-plane has limited fuel, so tactics need to be at the forefront of the player’s mind. Think Robotron meets Time Pilot and you’re in the ballpark.

Sky Skipper happens to be of the most rare and valuable arcade games in the world.  If you ever come across a functioning cabinet, consider yourself lucky!



A Popeye arcade cabinet

Credit: The International Arcade Museum at Museum of the Game

Introduced: 1982, Popeye (arcade)
Latest entry: 1983, Popeye (NES)
Nintendo doesn’t really do licensed character games any more, and while this one isn’t terrible, neither the arcade game nor later NES port were especially memorable; nor do I reckon kids these days have any idea who Popeye is / was. It’s said King Features Syndicate rejected Nintendo’s original proposal for a Popeye arcade title, so Nintendo replaced the characters with its own: Popeye became Jumpman (later Mario); Olive Oyl became Pauline; Bluto, Donkey Kong.  It lives on in our pockets; the arcade title was re-made for iOS by Bandai Namco, though Nintendo was not involved.




Next week, I’ll take a look back at the forgotten franchises we saw first on the Nintendo Entertainment System / Famicom platform.




Retro Pro: Make Your NES Game Paks Like New

Posted on 25 May, 2016  in Nintendo Entertainment System

As a retro game collector, you may be put off by the appearance of used games found in thrift stores, trade shows, and other places.  Older games show signs of wear and tear, particularly as we get into the pre-disc era of gaming (1996 and earlier).  Cartridges are scuffed; corrosion is seen on connectors; labels are ripped or missing.  Boxes are typically in poor shape, if they are available at all; retro games found in their original packaging can be prohibitively expensive for the starting collector.


The good news is you don’t need to spend a lot of money on well-preserved games just to have an attractive collection.  As console modder and retro gaming enthusiast Drumblanket shows us, a little effort and minimal expense can have even the worst-shape Nintendo Entertainment System Game Paks looking like new!


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Quick Picks | Simpsons on Wii; Multiplayer Zelda

Posted on 24 May, 2016  in Nintendo 3DS, Wii

A Photo of The Simpsons Game for Wii and The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes for Nintendo 3DS


As a collector, I find it valuable to visit game shops whenever I travel, so as to hunt for titles I might not spot otherwise in my usual rotation of retailers and re-sellers in my home market of Dallas / Fort Worth, Texas.  Being on a tight budget at the moment, I have significantly cut back on my new and used game purchases, so the collection is not growing much these days.  But a recent visit to Washington gave me the opportunity to grab these two titles at a GameStop in nearby Kensington, Maryland.


The Simpsons Game is not exactly rare, but I hadn’t yet seen it in my regular visits to game stores in search of titles to build my ever-expanding Wii library.  Now is the best time ever to collect Wii titles, as chains like GameStop are paying just pennies for the discs while trying to eliminate their existing inventories.  Wii U backward compatibility ensures functioning consoles will be available for years to come.  At any rate, I paid about $8 for this 2007 release, a third-person 3D action / platformer with mixed critical reviews.  I was once a huge Simpsons fan, so I expect I’ll get a bit of enjoyment out of this when I get around to trying it.


For my current-gen purchase, I picked up another major release that received so-so scores from critics.  The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes mixes the game engine and visuals of its Nintendo 3DS predecessor, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds with the multiplayer aspects of The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures.  The result didn’t go over too spectacularly with Zelda fans, but many reviewers agree there’s a decent game to be found in here.  I need to check it out soon, before online interest dries up completely and I’m stuck with AI-assisted Link clones.



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Long Lost and (Deservedly) Forgotten NES Prototype Resurfaces

Posted on 14 May, 2016  in Nintendo Entertainment System

On the same Memorial Day 1993 weekend that saw the release of the Super Mario Bros. movie, an even bigger flop hit the big screen and led to the collapse of a beloved film studio. Incredibly, “Happily Ever After” also had an NES tie-in game in development at the time, one which was assumed lost forever — until a prototype cart was discovered in Texas last year.




This rare find was finally announced this week after months of thorough research by Nintendo Player.  Their fantastic post on this unreleased game and its history is a long read, but definitely worth your time.



The collector who found the Happily Ever After prototype did not disclose how much he paid for it, and I won’t hazard a guess.  Prototypes of unreleased games, if authentic, can easily fetch $1,000 or more depending on the title and rarity.  I’ll be writing much more about prototypes in the future.


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The Game That Beat Me | Donkey Kong Country Returns

Posted on 31 March, 2016  in Retro Reviews, Wii

Game over screen in Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii

I saw this a LOT. (Credit: Nintendo)

Editor’s note: I originally wrote this review in 2013, but with today’s release of Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii U eShop, it’s a perfect opportunity to revisit one of the most challenging platformer games Nintendo ever released.


If you held a gun to my head and demanded, at the risk of losing my life, that I name my favorite video game ever, I would quickly say, “The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time.” The matter would be settled.


But what defines a “favorite” game, anyway? I certainly have played Ocarina of Time a lot. I was blown away the first time I played it on my Nintendo 64 as a teenager, and played from start to finish at least three times on that console. I played through it twice more many years later on the Wii Virtual Console, and again a couple years ago when I made The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D my very first Nintendo 3DS purchase.


I enjoyed it on every play-through. But does that really make it my favorite game?


If frequency of play is your metric, then certainly not. I haven’t played OoT more than a half-dozen times. Compare that to Ridge Racer 3D, which, according to my 3DS play time log, is my most-played title on that system, at 55 hours or so. But that’s not even in my top five favorite games on that system, let alone ever. I just played it a lot right after I got it, since it was one of the only games I had for a while.


I’ve probably logged several hundred hours at Tetris, and that’s definitely one of my all-time favorites. But the favorite? I dunno. It’s certainly my favorite Game Boy title. And Super Mario Bros. 3 is my favorite NES game, hands-down. You can guess my most-treasured N64 game.


I don’t have a favorite Wii game, really; I bought the system in 2009 primarily for its Virtual Console, and I used it for that pretty much exclusively for about three years. The first actual Wii game I ever bought on disc was the Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary collection, and that doesn’t even count, because it’s just a Super NES emulation. The first “real” Wii game I bought was New Super Mario Bros. Wii — in 2011, two years after its release.


My favorite Wii U game? Please.


That brings me to the Super NES, which was my personal “golden age” console. I didn’t have a ton of games growing up, being in a lower-middle-class family with a brother and two step-siblings competing for gifts at Christmas and on birthdays. But! My parents were divorced, so I parlayed that split into maximizing my gaming gifts from each parent, observing two Christmases and birthdays a year, as it were. I remained highly selective, relying primarily on my annual birthday subscription renewal to Nintendo Power magazine as my source of advertorials and propaganda in the guise of game reviews and “news”.


As you might expect, this led to my gaming library being rather heavily tilted in favor of Nintendo first-party titles, but by the same token it meant I had a very high-quality selection of games. I ended up with very few genuinely bad games on my NES and Super NES, with the worst of those being the unlicensed Bible Adventures games my well-meaning Christian family would purchase.


For me, the Super NES arrived at the perfect time: just before I hit my teenage years, with a solid amount of experience playing NES games and yet as I was continuing to grow my skills and interests. And the games for it were AMAZING. I honestly can’t think of any Super NES titles I owned that I didn’t like. It’s much harder for me to decide which one I love the most; I can’t do it.


Super Mario World came with my console, so I played it the most, at first. I beat it in less than two weeks of playing for the first time, then spent the better part of a year exploring all its secrets and unlocking the Star World, Special stages and the bizarre “Mario mask mode” that changes the backgrounds to autumnal colors and the enemies to walking Mario heads.


The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past was the first Zelda game I was able to beat, though it took a LONG time. But I never gave up, because I enjoyed the ride so much.


Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball is easily the game I played the most. I probably completed nine or ten full, 162-game seasons, plus playoffs, not including the hours I spent pouring over newspaper box scores to get the player rosters matched to their real-world counterparts. There was nothing I loved more than leading Juan Gonzalez, Jose Canseco, Ivan Rodriguez and the rest of the Fake 1994 Texas Rangers to a World Series that would never be played, thanks to the player strike.


Then there was Donkey Kong Country.


Like a lot of gamers at the time, I learned about DKC through Nintendo Power. As a subscriber, I also got a little something extra: a VHS tape came in the mail one day, in a green box with jungle leaf patterns:


A Donkey Kong Country promotional VHS videocasette from Nintendo Power

Remember these?


(That’s not my tape, by the way. Mine has been lost for many years now.)


I popped it in the VCR and was transfixed / annoyed for 13 minutes:



Terrible acting aside, I was floored. I HAD to have this game. And so, I started saving my allowance.


Finally, Donkey Kong Country hit store shelves, and I raced down to Walmart to pick up my copy. It exceeded all my expectations the first time I played through it. It was, to my teenage mind, the most incredible-looking 16-bit game ever created. I had no idea games could look so lush; so alive! The environments — the challenges — it was everything I had really hoped for in a future Mario game, here and now.


So yeah, Donkey Kong Country is the fourth pillar in my quartet of favorite Super NES games.


A screen shot of Donkey Kong and his banana horde, from Donkey Kong Country for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System

Who really needs this many bananas? (Credit: Nintendo)


Fast forward 16 years, and Donkey Kong Country Returns is released. I was aware of it, and I owned a Wii at the time, but for whatever reason, checking it out was not a big priority for me. I was happy with the original! When a new copy turned up cheap at the employee store where I work, I picked it up, took it home, and set it aside. I figured I’d get to it later.


“Later” turned into nearly two years. I had played and beaten Donkey Kong Country on the Wii Virtual Console, and it was still a ton of fun, though of course not *quite* as great as I had remembered. (Still very good, though.) I never previously owned the other two Donkey Kong Countrygames on Super NES. You’d think I’d be first in line for those titles, considering how much I loved DKC, but they came out at a time my family was going through a very difficult period, and money for such things was hard to come by. At the time, I went a couple of years without getting any new games at all, and once things had improved, I was off to college, with a new Nintendo 64 in tow. My Super NES days were behind me.


At any rate, I decided I should play the other two DKC Super NES titles first, and eventually I got around to starting Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest via the Wii Virtual Console. It was good, I guess; and yes, fun, but not even close to my memories of DKC.


Also, I got stuck on a volcano level and basically gave up.


“To hell with it,” I said, and I fired up Donkey Kong Country Returns for the first time.


I felt that DKC feeling again.


It was great! I loved this game. Loved playing through it so much. Loved the look; loved the level design; loved the attention to detail that brought this game to life. It was incredible.


Then it started to get hard.


REALLY hard.


I fought through it. I kept on playing. Hour after hour, week after week. Because of my job and other responsibilities, I could only devote any time to playing it on Saturdays.


There were a couple of levels that stymied me so greatly that I was forced to let the Super Guide play through them for me. How embarrassing. I went back to each later and finished it myself. But oh, after I died for the umpteenth time on a later level, there he was again, that stupid pig, smirking at me as he waved his little flag and jumped up and down, mocking me, screaming HEY LOSER! YOU SUCK AND YOU CAN’T DO THIS YOURSELF SO LET THE GAME DO IT FOR YOU!


One of the checkpoint pigs from Donkey Kong Country Returns for Wii

I wanted to kill that pig.


This game was really, REALLY testing me. I loved it so much, yet I could not remember a game that had vexed me so. Yes, there are other games I have given up on: three, to be exact. ActRaiser, whereupon I am still stuck on the final level and keep telling myself I’ll get to it later; Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, which is an awful, practically broken mess and which I will cheat my way through by using the Wii U Virtual Console’s save states once it releases there; and Ninja Gaiden for NES, because, well, that game is freaking impossible. (I can’t beat the final boss, and no amount of YouTube tutorials have helped.)


I didn’t love any of those games, though. Not like DKC Returns. This game had won me over, only to crush my spirit.


And yet, I pressed on, and finally made it to the final boss.


Well, the final boss stage, to be precise. Because of course, you have to navigate a rocket barrel course — the kind that I found nearly impossible to complete elsewhere in the game — before you can even fight the last boss, and if the boss kills you, you have to start all over and go through the rocket barrel course again.


And again.


And again.


I would try until I nearly depleted my supply of lives; then I’d go back and play through a bunch of the easiest levels, accruing banana coins and lives, then using the banana coins to buy more lives from Cranky’s shop, then try again.


I used every “cheat” item available, especially the “invincibility” banana juice.


I couldn’t do it.


I can’t do it.


I gave up.


For the first time, I let a game beat me.


I don’t know how I feel about DKCR now. I can’t even look Donkey Kong in the eye on the game’s cover. It’s like a bad breakup or something. And I am filled with shame because of it.


None of this, of course, will stop me from trying again at some point on my 3DS in Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D.  And for that matter, I eventually did acquire and, after much trial and error, finish Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on my Wii U.  (That review, I’ll save for another time.)



AT A GLANCEDonkey Kong Country Returns for Wii

Donkey Kong Country Returns



DEVELOPERRetro Studios

RELEASE DATES: November 10, 2010 (Wii); March 31, 2016 (Wii U)


FRANCHISE: Donkey Kong

DESCRIPTION: A challenging 2.5-D action platformer in the mold of the classic Super NES DKC series, featuring gorgeous visuals and a brilliant re-imagining of the original soundtrack.

WHO WILL LIKE THIS: Fans of Donkey Kong Country; gamers who enjoy platformers but find Super Mario to be too easy

WHO WON’T LIKE THIS: Anyone with a paralyzing fear of failure; easily frustrated players with poor hand-eye coordination

SIMILAR TITLES: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical FreezeRayman LegendsSuper Meat Boy

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