High Five #11 - The Five Best "Silver Era" Konami NES Games

It's been a busy few days here at the AAAD household. I'm starting a new job next week - still
computer lawyering, but moving in-house - and we're working to get our new tenants in place when the lease expires June 1. 

On the fun side, I got to chop down my first tree today. Just like George Washington!

Tomorrow, it's replacing a garbage disposal unit, more tree-chopping, and general cleanup. 

That's some quality landlording! 

There's an iOS connection to all this - over the last year, I've learned quite a bit about how tech can help out first-time landlords. 

But that property management stuff can wait for tomorrow. Today, a Videogame High Five!

Today's High Five is another retro-games list. This time, we're focusing on the Nintendo Entertainment System - the console that brought videogames back to the US after the crash. 

(As I've previously noted, I never noticed the crash. I kept right on buying terrible crash-era Atari games on clearance, right up until I saw my first NES store display.)

Much as our Atari High Five looked at a single game maker - Activision - our first NES High Five looks at a single developer - Konami. 

There's no doubt about it - during the NES era, Konami was the first name in third-party releases. They had massive hits across all genres. (I suppose Capcom was up there, too. But bear with me.)

For this High Five, we're not looking at EVERYTHING Konami made. Just the games that came in the silver boxes. Primarily, that means "the early stuff." 

You see, back in the 1980's, developers liked to stick with a single "look" for their cartridges. For instance, Activision's stuff for Atari 2600 was "white print on colorful backdrop, abstract art."

Nintendo's first-generation NES releases were "black box, pixelated "graphics" art, sans-serif title angled across the front." 

For Konami - at least at first - the look was silver. Silver box, silver cartridge, with a "realistic" painting of the game action. 

As we moved into the 1990s and the NES got a bit older, all developers abandoned their original "theme" box art, looking to make their product stand out. Zelda was all-gold, Super Mario 2 was a full-bleed cloud backdrop, and for Konami, Metal Gear got a full-bleed "action" painting. 

So we can't count "Metal Gear"? No, it's disqualified. NOT SILVER.

(Plus, officially, not a "Konami" title. Due to Nintendo's weird rule limiting 3rd parties to 5 releases/year, Konami created a shell company and released Metal Gear under the "Ultra Games" banner.)

Here we go....

5. Track & Field

Konami's first NES game remains one of their best. 

(And note, I am NOT including "Track and Field 2" in this list, even in passing. That game was awful. The build-up was SO big in Nintendo Power... there were so many events! So few of which had anything to do with Track or Field! Canoeing? Swimming? I still can't figure out how diving was scored, or how to do literally anything on the high bar. And was hang gliding ever really an Olympic sport?)

I was a huge "Track and Field" fan in the arcades, and LOVED the NES port. 

It was almost pixel-for-pixel perfect. That is, in large part, thanks to the somewhat cartoony graphics - but that's the entire charm. Half the screen was a largely static scoreboard! Check out the mustaches!

NES Track & Field also added some events that WEREN'T in the arcade - skeet shooting and archery immediately come to mind. 

For us kids, you definitely needed a controller with a turbo function - as the A-B back-and-forth running was somewhat difficult to master. 

Of course, if you HAD a turbo controller, many of the events were shockingly easy... but breaking world records was a blast for us 11-year-olds, too. 

4. Jackal

Two player, simultaneous, cooperative play. Driving around in jeeps, overhead view, blowing up buildings and enemies with jeep-mounted weaponry and saving POWs. 

There's not a lot to be said about Jackal - this game was a 1980's action movie in NES form.

Almost everything in the environment could be blown up, and you could move - and fire - in all directions. We kept playing Jackal well into college.

3. Life Force

The first NES game I ever played was Gradius. I was babysitting the kids down the street, and they had the first Nintendo on the block. They had "Super Mario Brothers", of course, along with "Baseball", "Commando", and "Gradius". 

Gradius was great. Life Force was, basically, exactly the same game. Side scrolling spaceship shooter, with progressive power-ups you could cash in to add missiles, or lasers. (Save up for the "option" - a bubble-looking-thing that follows your ship and does whatever you do.)

But with Life Force, you could play 2 players simultaneously. And surprise! Half the levels were top-down vertical scrolling, ala Xevious.

Life Force was a great action game that really showed off what the NES was capable of. There were times in this game when there must have been 25 enemies onscreen... and solar flares arcing all over the place. Intense. 

2. Castlevania

This one started a franchise that's still going today. At first glance, it seems very basic - a left-right platformer, "horror" themed, and your guy uses a whip.

But there's a lot under the surface. The level design is deviously great.

Medusa heads fly at you in parabolic arcs - and the game is built in such a way that fortune strongly favors the bold.

Those parabolas are GOING to get you if you try to stay in a "safe" place. Wait too long to make that jump, and you're definitely getting knocked from your ledge.

Castlevania's sequel, "Simon's Quest", gets a bit of a bad rap these days. Yes, it was a departure from "what made Castlevania great", with its RPG elements and large overworld map. And yes, some of the Japanese-to-English in-game translations left certain puzzles un-solveable.

But hey - we were ALL using Nintendo Power maps back then. EVERYONE. And by our third playthrough, we could get anywhere we wanted without the maps.

I probably know the "Metroid" map better than some parts of Chicago, and I've lived here for 15 years. I haven't played Metroid since the 1990s, but if you threw me into that world today, I could lead you directly to Kraid within 5 minutes.

And the coolness of that fire whip really can't be overstated. It was practically a lightsaber.

1. Contra

What else can be said about Contra? Remember the first time your character fell in the water on the first stage... and didn't die?

Frankly, Contra ranks pretty highly on the list of "Greatest Video Games", regardless of platform. Forget what I said about Jackal above - THIS is a 1980's action movie in NES form. (Predator, to be precise). 

Like the best Konami games, it's a cooperative-play game with power-ups. You're a machine-gun toting Arnold clone, fighting aliens (and, occasionally, soldiers... 1980s videogames blurred those lines a lot) in the jungle. 

Honorable Mention "Silver" Konami Games: Gradius, Blades of Steel, Double Dribble, Top Gun (Those carrier landings took up most of my summer 1988. One time I got it right without looking at the speed/altitude gauges. I may have been using the Force), Castlevania 2 and 3. 


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  3. Wow, looking at the first post almost 40 days ago! You guys have the most anticipated homebrew right now = lot’s of excited people in anticipation. But take your time making it perfect cause once it’s out it’s out till the next release so make it count!

    On a more personal note Emu_kidd who are you looking forward to fighting again in the new Punch Out!! coming out on Monday?
    Regards: eve hunt

  4. "Never watched this video, I predicted Super Mario World at #1! And LITERALLY just as I was typing this, Super Mario World was #2? I'm actually surprised by WatchMojo this time! After that though I knew a Zelda game was #1 and I'm not surprised by that at all! Also no Kirby Super Star? Not even an honorable mention? And I would but the whole Super Nintendo DK Country trilogy in 1 spot! Again, only the Super Nintendo ones, for anyone who misread that!

    Regards: Eve Hunt

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