Digging up the odd obscurities in the NES catalog

Digging up the odd obscurities in the NES catalog

Gameological assistant editor Matt Gerardi joins me once again to talk about our weekend gaming plans—and please share yours in the comments, as always. Matt has been playing some obscure NES games lately, and he’s found some delightfully weird stuff. NES discussion often revolves around nostalgia, which is perfectly fun, but Nintendo’s first blockbuster system has some lesser-known oddities that are fascinating in their own right. Matt chatted his latest find and his plans to play a long-lost, unreleased treasure that only resurfaced in 2011.

John Teti: What are you playing this weekend?

Matt Gerardi: I’ll probably finally get some buddies together to play some Sportsfriends, which I’ve really been hankering for. Other than that, I’ll probably boot up a retro game or two and continue my new mandate to play more old games.

JT: How “retro” are we talking?

MG: NES, mostly. I’ve become interested in the games that came out toward the end of that system’s life, around 1990 and onward. There’s some great stuff there that flew under the radar because the Super NES was either out already or on the way.

JT: What’s your favorite late-era NES gem so far?

MG: I haven’t played all that many yet—I’m still putting together a list of things to check out—but I really love this game called Monster Party. Have you heard of it?

JT: I have not.

MG: It’s pretty wild. It’s about a boy who’s on his way home from a Little League game when a gargoyle-looking alien thing named Bert shows up. Bert tells him that he needs the help of the boy and his weapon, a baseball bat, to kill off the evil monsters that have invaded his home. So as this little boy, you walk around a horrific landscape bashing bizarre monsters with a baseball bat. Sometimes you’ll find a pill that lets you control Bert, who can fly and shoot lasers.

JT: So it’s like A Boy And His Blob, but with more violence.

MG: Yeah, and more weird pop culture.

JT: You just implicitly trust the motives of this gargoyle alien? “Hi, kid, I’m an alien from outer space. I need you to kill stuff for me, so let’s get started.”

MG: The kid is kind of resistant at first. Even he’s like, “Wait, this isn’t a weapon. It’s a baseball bat. What the hell are you talking about?” But he ends up going with him anyway.

JT: He sounds so innocent. “A baseball bat as a weapon? I never!” So what other pop-culture influences do you see in it?

MG: So each level in the game is this long horizontal stretch with a locked door at the end, and to get the key, you need to kill several boss monsters on the stage. The first one you come across is a giant talking plant that greets you with a “Hello, baby!” It’s straight-up Audrey II from Little Shop Of Horrors.

JT: Oh, so it’s that kind of game. I’m liking it more already. Lawsuit-Avoiding Monster Party.

MG: Yeah. Apparently, an earlier version of the game had even more stuff like that. Later, you fight a giant cat that throws smaller cats at you. In the prototype, it was one of the gremlins from Gremlins.

JT: A cat that throws cats is much scarier. The lawyers did them a favor on that one.

MG: That fight is very cruel, actually. You have to swing at the cats with your bat and knock them back at the big cat. It’s hard to tell, but the small cats look just really scared and freaked out about the whole thing. One thing they didn’t cut out are a couple of Doctor Who Dalek ripoffs. You don’t fight them, but they’re there, hanging out in the background of your fight with a trio of giant sentient tempura.

JT: Today they give awards to indie games that manage to be this weird.

MG: Right? The art style and sensibilities are way ahead of its time.

JT: I now plan to play Monster Party this weekend. You’ve convinced me. Any other oddities you’ve turned up?

MG: I’ve yet to play it, but I’m looking forward to trying out this game called Bio Force Ape.

JT: Oh, now that one is something of a legend.

MG: Yeah, an unreleased game that was thought to be lost for quite a while before Frank Cifaldi and the Lost Levels folks unearthed it. It’s another late NES game, not shown off until 1992, and man, the stuff these developers were able to pull off with that system is incredible.

JT: How so?

MG: For one, the character just looks so good. It’s sort of a stylized ’80s comic book look. There’s not a lot of detail, but they use shadows to create some great definition. And this game moves so fast! You hurl yourself around the screen with all the speed of Sonic The Hedgehog, except you can also do pro wrestling moves, so it’s cooler.

JT: Yeah, judging from the YouTube clips, Sonic’s got nothing on this guy.

MG: Were there any older games that you always thought were a little underappreciated?

JT: I don’t know if it’s underappreciated per se, but I’m always surprised there isn’t more love for Little Nemo: The Dream Master. Maybe because it was so difficult. But that game had some of the best character design on the NES. And it was a sweet story, too.

MG: It’s definitely garnered more of a following as of late.

JT: Yeah, I’ve been happy to see that.

MG: I tried playing it a few years ago, and yeah, it kicked my butt. It’s on my list, though. Weirdly enough, I think I’ve become better at older games by playing modern games like Spelunky and Dark Souls so much. They encourage you to slow down and use the kinds of tactics that work best in the classics.

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