Top 100 NES Review: #37 – Willow (1989)

What A Rabbit Hole. 

Playing this led to the movie which led me to Ron Howard which then led to the universe. 

Title Screen Willow NESSydlexia’s Ranking: #25/100
My Rating: StarStarStarStar

It all started with the typo 36: Paperboy37.

Looking over my top 100 NES list for my next plaything, paperboy37 sounded odd and intriguing…until I learned that it was a mistake. 37 just didn’t carry to the next line with Willow. Wow — I’m an idiot. I knew what a paperboy was, but what the hell was a Willow? What the hell indeed. 

Willow is an adaptation of a George Lucas film of the same name for the NES. Capcom took this IP and made something akin to a Zelda game. It took me several days to realize that this wasn’t a stand alone product. I was in awe of this quirky game with a rich, albeit weird, story and music. The intro alone was overwhelming for an NES game and probably took up half the cartridge.

None of this prepared me for the movie. In one salient scene, Willow casts fire on a troll that then gets ripped apart by cerbellum-looking branches which turns into a big ball of brain tissues before two dragon heads rip through the film-covered gyrus to morph into Siskel and Ebert.

Here we go!

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Top 100 NES Review: #20 – Mega Man (1987)

I Don’t Think I Like Mega Man.

I’m not looking forward to playing four more identical games to close out the series. 

Mega Man NES Title ScreenSydlexia’s Ranking: #20/100
My Rating: StarStar

I finally submitted my final “big” thing due for residency — a journal club review discussing Bell’s Palsy. If you think that’s boring enough, wait for what I used for entertainment in between revisions.

In theory, a more complex game of rock-paper-scissors should pique my interest. A break from the linear, ossified train tracks of other side-scrollers should be a welcome sight. A robust inventory of weaponry ought to make me squeal with joy. But, Mega Man just doesn’t. This is my second iteration (Mega Man X being the first), and it is all. the. same.

The biggest allure central to the plot is the order. There are initially six stages, and at the end of each one is a special boss. Defeating it garners you a new weapon. Each boss is super weak to one of the other weapons, so there is a particular order of stages that makes the most sense for you to run roughshod over the competition.

This is the kind of game that gets wrecked when there is a backlog of games in the queue.

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Top 100 NES Review: #16 – Ninja Gaiden (1989)

Campy Just Like An 80s Movie.

But I’d rather watch “16 Candles” than actually beat this game. 

Ninja Gaiden NESSydlexia’s Ranking: #16/100
My Rating: StarStarStar

I came down with an unconfirmed fever last Tuesday. I was sweating up a storm, feeling febrile and achey, but every temperature recorded was below <100 degrees Fahrenheit. Regardless, I was sent home to self-isolate and await the results of my COVID test. Since then, I’ve fully recovered but still no test results. Waiting this out has been a monastic experience and makes me appreciate those who truly self-isolated for all these many weeks as I have continued to work.

Prior, I was pounding away on 5th generation games (PS1 and N64). Even more specifically, it’s been a lot of Final Fantasy, which also means it’s been a lot of time. SO. MUCH. TIME. Playing a backlog of RPGs is a Sisyphean task, and every time I got that boulder to the top of the hill, it would roll right back down with the next entry.

I decided to take this new found idleness to blast through some NES games. I didn’t want to allot the same amount of copious time spent on FF7 or FF8.  The original Nintendo should be perfect for quick in-and-out games… until Ninja Gaiden hit me with a shuriken to the forehead.

This game is something else. Every ledge is perfectly placed near an avian threat more than willing to hit you into the abyss. Making things harder, trying to share these tiny footholds with sword throwing ruffians makes it almost impossible.

While excruciatingly hard, it does come with a caveat. Dying only means you restart at your current level. This means you only have to complete three stages of impossible tasks and defeat a boss before your starting point resets. And just like the lottery, this is where Ninja Gaiden gets you: you always think “I just need ONE more try”. Instead of being hopelessly out of reach, Ninja Gaiden is forever crushing your soul in a tantalizing, different way than most NES games.

Let’s just say, I gave up.

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Top 100 NES Review: #44 – Gradius (1986)

Prepare to Die.

A Game Nietzsche would be proud to play.

NES Gradius Title ScreenSydlexia’s Ranking: #44/100
Rating: StarStar

Few things can suck away your spirit to live like an opaque Nihilistic quote or a game designed to steal your pocket change. If I had to choose between reading Thus Spoke Zarathustra or playing Gradius for a day,  I’m not sure which I would choose.

Gradius is more worthy as a portal through time than a game. It harkens back to a day where video games were enjoyed in the public sphere, not in the private seclusion of your own home. These big boxes the size of caskets were tucked away in every nook and cranny and were only momentary diversions while waiting for a pizza or friend. They were not meant to be prolonged and protracted affairs.

This arcade game ported to the NES is no different. Death comes early and often, an obvious ploy to guzzle more quarters. The difficulty ramps to obscene heights. What’s scary is how quickly the dial gets turned up: getting through stage 1 is somewhat of an achievement. As your ship explodes from an array of stray laser fire that dots the screen in a potpourri of projectiles, you will be asking yourself….

…does anything matter?

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Top 100 NES Review: #100 – Abadox: The Deadly Inner War (1989)

A Magic School Bus Tour of the Intestines.

This game made me ponder: what’s inside my bowels?
Abadox The Deadly Inner War Title ScreenSydlexia’s Ranking: #100/100
My Rating: smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

You know if you stretched out your small intestines, they would be as long as 22 feet. While Abadox is only a measly six levels, it’s going to feel like it is much longer, just like your jejunum and ileum. That’s because during the space invasion through the gut of an alien, you will die many times by its angry inhabitants. I haven’t seen a GI system this upset since I ate a whole pizza and half a chicken in one sitting.

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Top 100 NES Review: #19 – Metal Gear (1988)

Surprisingly Fun.

Figuring out maps, finding key cards, and solving puzzles. It doesn’t take much to impress me on NES. 

Metal Gear NES Title Screen
Sydlexia’s Ranking: #19/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586cropped-smooth-star-e1545863035586

It’s fun to play Kojima’s original Metal Gear. It has all the motifs and feel of the 3D versions but none of the bloated, hour-long cutscenes. With such sparse space, Kojima couldn’t sink into indulgent, convoluted narration that plagues the later Metal Gear Solids. Regardless, you still feel the imposing gravity of the situation: you are a sole infiltrator against every odd to save the world.

Another plus of Kojima not being able to go crazy with flair is you see how good he is at actually making a game. There is nothing to hide behind except the basics, and he passes with flying colors even though this is a port he isn’t exactly happy about. Of course, the NES likes to ruin a good time (plenty of cheap things to get pissed about) but the core is everything you could want from a game this old.

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Top 100 NES Review: #18 – Crystalis (1990)

The NES Tries to Steal Perfection From Me Again.

Why can’t things just be good and wholesome on this devil of a system?

Crystalis 1

Sydlexia’s Ranking: #25/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550

I always start these games with the best of intentions: no guides, embrace the grind, willing to flounder. The drama of these games are in the struggle, and if you run to a walkthrough at the first moment of adversity, you will destroy anything these old games have to offer. The joy is figuring out the puzzles both via your own skill and serendipitous discovery.

Crystalis started as the type of game you do these top 100 lists for: a complete joy of an unknown. The graphics, mechanics, and puzzles are an addictive pull to do more. It was an instant favorite, but then came the moment that happens in every NES adventure/puzzle/RPG — the inscrutable puzzle with no hints and no logic but is required for you to continue. Thankfully, it survives this moment and avoids the NES’s ultimate desire to make every game unenjoyable.

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Top 100 NES Review: #21 – Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988)

A False Sense of Choice.

You might think you are playing SMB2, but really it’s playing you. 

screen shot 2019-01-22 at 8.33.00 pmSydlexia’s Ranking: #21/100
My Rating: cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550cropped-smooth-star-e1545862962550

As the odd ball, SMB2 does a lot of things never seen before: it prominently incorporates a transgendered bird, hides rocket ships in plain sight by masquerading them as root vegetables, and allows the consumption of a potion for us to see dark world reflections of reality.

During this adventure, we feel like we are the driver of our thoughts, allowed to make character selections and win extra lives in roulette. Little do we know that SMB2 is playing with house money, and we are just along for the ride.

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Top 100 NES Review: #25 – Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1988)

No Safe Spaces Allowed.

This game should be renamed to Zelda II: The Adventure of Microaggressions.

screen shot 2019-01-02 at 6.42.05 pm

Sydlexia’s Ranking: #25/100
My Rating:smooth-starsmooth-starsmooth-star

I just listened to a podcast with Joe Rogan and Jonathan Haidt. The topic was the culture of college campuses and the creation safe zones — places where you are free from discomfort. Haidt, a psychologist, thinks this is creating fragile personalities, ones that can not withstand the stresses of living in a functioning society when these students enter post-college life.

When looking at other reviews for this game, I saw people saying Zelda II is too hard, unfair, confusing, petty, cruel, and cheap. Was it this same sanctuary attitude churning out gamers unwilling to be challenged? I decided to play this game guide free* to see if the standards were truly unreasonable.**

* It didn’t happen.
**They were. 

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