Friday, November 19, 2010

A Salute to Simplicity: Nintendo Sports

By: C.G. Morelli

 There are sports video games out there right now that are, in a word, unbelievable. You can page through complex football playbooks, create new franchises, or swing a live bat against live pitching. Some systems even go so far as to mimic your actual body movements and translate them into your play. It’s clear that things have come a long way since Pong, my friends.

But what these games offer in the way of crystal clear, realistic graphics, fast-paced game play, and player interaction, they lack in one important area…simplicity. What ever happened to some of the classic Nintendo favorites? I’m talking about the games that paved the way for some of the more amazing advancements we see today.

No matter who you are, if you’re looking for a little old school simplicity in your gaming experience, these NES sports games won’t disappoint.

Blades of Steel (Konami, 1988)
This game was a small step up from the traditional Nintendo Ice Hockey game, where you’d string together a lineup of rail-thin, medium, and heavyweight skaters. The game play remained basically the same, but you’d spend half the game bumping into defenders intentionally so you could engage in crude Rock ‘em, Sock ‘em Robot style fighting. A classy move was to rip the guy’s jersey over his head and go to town with lefts and rights. 

Sure, you could rip a slap shot past the opposing goalie and watch him have an on-ice temper tantrum, but everyone knew that if you won the fights you had ultimate bragging rights, even if you lost the game itself.

Double Dribble (Konami, 1987)
Who could ever forget this classic basketball game? Rock out to the National Anthem as droves of fans literally pour into the Konami Arena to watch a team like the New York Eagles take on the Boston Frogs. And yes, those mascots do make a special appearance at halftime.

Pull up from half court and watch the ball soar nearly off the screen and then drop, with the sound of a plummeting bomb, in the net for 3 points. Dunk in someone’s eye and witness one of the cheesiest on-screen, reverse slam cutaways in gaming history. 

Did you know this game actually gives you the option of playing 30 minute quarters? I wouldn’t recommend it, but if you have a few hours on your hands, give it a try and see if you can post Chamberlain-shattering numbers in the first quarter.

California Games (Epyx, 1989)
Who could hate a game that has “Louie, Louie” as its theme song, bra? California Games was extreme sports before extreme sports actually existed. Therefore, you can rip off a sweet jester with a Hacky-Sack, meet the incisors of a shark after wiping from your board, or steer a ditzy, blond skater girl into curbs and watch her fall face first into the concrete. This game even takes the time out of its busy day to inform you of how “dorky” it is to crash over the handlebars of a BMX bike.

Cali Games is basically all the big-hair, bright-color remnants of the late 80’s and early 90’s packed into one game. It was originally a game intended for the home PC, but made a smooth transition to Nintendo and other game consoles.

Track and Field II (Konami, 1988)
From the second your plane lands at the airport to mark your Olympic arrival, it’s pretty clear that this game will cause permanent damage to your thumbs from repeatedly pounding the A and B buttons to run each race. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to work your fingers to the bone and win gold for the US in fencing, triple jump, hurdles, swimming, canoeing…the list goes on. 

You’ll appreciate the typewritten report of your progress as you move through each event. Don’t feel alone if the word ‘disqualified’ becomes an important part of your vocabulary.

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out (NES, 1987)
Little Mac takes on a role as New York’s version of Rocky. Smack a thorny rose down Don Flamenco’s throat, or crack King Hippo in the gut and drop his pants down around his ankles. Time Bald Bull’s special Bull Charge just right and knock him down in one punch. 

Move up the ranks and listen to the lame trash talk of about 10 different opponents until you reach Iron Mike. Then, drop that squeaky-voiced nutcase with one of Little Mac’s infamous upper cuts and watch Super Mario count him out. 

Just don’t piss off Mac’s corner man…dude scares me. He’ll personally come to your house and have you running wind sprints if you get your butt kicked by Glass Joe again.

RBI Baseball (Tengen, 1988)
When I was a kid, there were about three things I could do to really get my little brother bent out of shape. One was to hold him down and make him scream ‘uncle.’ Another was to “borrow” many of his belongings for “short” periods of time. The third was to whip his butt at RBI Baseball. 

Of course, the best way to get that done was to ride the blazing fastball of Doc Gooden, and compliment it with a few devastating change-ups along the way. This was done by holding up on the D-Pad after the pitch was released and then reveling in your opponent’s frustration. 

This would often result in a Nintendo controller being smashed against a wall (Mom, we swear it was an accident every time) but it was worth it.    

With its frumpy, weeble wobble-esque players and intoxicatingly annoying theme music, this game is an absolute classic. It easily beats both of its sequels.

Tecmo Super Bowl (Tecmo, 1991)
I don’t know anyone who didn’t spend hours playing this game when it was popular…which is surprising because each team’s playbook consisted of only eight plays. 

If you’re looking for defense, play with the Giants and slaughter QBs with Lawrence Taylor. Or, be the Eagles and do the safety dance almost every game with Jerome Brown and Reggie White.

If you want to score on every offensive play, be the 49ers and throw deep to Jerry Rice.  Montana to Rice is virtually unstoppable in this game. You could also go with the Vikes and their arsenal of reverse runs, flea flickers, and other assorted trick plays. Kansas City’s Christian Okoye simply runs wild on just about everyone and there’s no prayer of pulling him down in the open field. Or, you could go another route all together and run the bootleg left all day with the aptly named “QB Eagles” (Randall Cunningham).

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