Retro Spotlight: The NES Goes on Vacation
Nostalgia be a harsh mistress. As we toil in the middle of winter, the school children of America look forward to the summer. For the jaded adults, however, it's just another season trapped in cubicle hell. What was once a period of unadulterated freedom is now just a flick of the AC dial as you fight traffic to arrive at your monitor-staring station.
Well... personally, unadulterated freedom is a bit exaggerated. In the summers of my youth, things were fairly routine. Early every morning, my mom would peel me off my bed like an obstinate scab and send me on a death march to swim practice. After that, I would usually meander with friends at the pool, read and doodle at the air conditioned library, or organize a short-handed baseball game at the park. Once the sun went down and the mosquitoes started whispering sweet no-nothings in my ear, I hosed off the sweat and dirt, hurried indoors, and glued my hands to the controller of the NES (and later, the SNES). Barring a late-night heavily-edited basic cable horror movie, I ruled pixelated heavens until my eyelids grew too heavy.
One week every summer, this schedule was thrown into dramatic disarray. My mother would cram my brother and I into her car and drive us down to the relatively syringe-free sands of the Jersey shore. Once there, we would flee from bloodthirsty ravenous seagulls and their clumpy white air bombs, question the safety of boardwalk Ferris wheels, and ignore the tiny particles of sand in our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Not everything was perfect, though. As any gamer knows, the main drawback to a family vacation is leaving the home console behind. Perhaps this sounds trivial to the non-gamer, but gaming has always been a way of life for many of us. Video games allowed us a blanket of social comfort: no one witnessed our failures, but everyone heard about our triumphs. I wasn't worth much to the local Termites youth football team, but I could sure ride a root beer jelly bean filled blob-turned-rocket to Blobolonia with the best of them! Pitiful, perhaps, but leaving games behind was like leaving a piece of yourself behind.
But fear not. After creating a half-pipe to attach to the back of an RV, Bam Margera profoundly stated, "Wherever I go, I skate." For generations of gamers, a similar mantra applies: "Wherever I go, I game." And from the Game & Watch to the Game Gear, the Tiger LCD to the Sony PSP, portable gaming has been a very prominent staple of the industry.
As any good Modojo reader knows, portable games usually have a different texture than home console games. However, this is not true in all cases. Many publishers capitalize on the success of their big home console franchises by quickly creating a portable iteration. Instead of racking their brains to come up with a fantastic sequel, they can spit up more of the same and people will buy it. During the height of the NES's popularity, nearly every major franchise had a Game Boy complement. These portable doppelgangers often fell into one of three categories: a strict duplicate, a slightly altered remix, or a true evolution of the original. Here are three games that best exemplify these trends, as well as three games that made their way to the shore each summer.
[subhead]The Port: Castelian[/subhead]
Known as Nebulus elsewhere, Castelian is one tough mother of a game. Though I haven't compared the two tile-for-tile, the Game Boy version is virtually identical to the NES version, down to every vile, odious false platform. Though the brief bonus levels are different, the anguish is platform agnostic. So thank the good folks at Triffix Entertainment for making failure possible wherever you go. The downside to portable frustration? A broken NES controller is a lot cheaper to replace than a broken Game Boy, as your throwing arm is likely to get some exercise. (On a side note: It is with great humility that I admit I have never been able to beat this game. And believe me, I've been trying for the better part of two decades. Just as the bullied becomes the bully, I greatly enjoy watching others experience its pain. In college, I would often invite my friend Colin to attempt to beat the first level. As of this day, he has yet to succeed. To the best of my knowledge, there is no quicker way to break down a man than Castelian.)
[subhead]The Remix: The Rescue of Princess Blobette[/subhead]
After creating the classic Pitfall!, David Crane flexed his creative genius once again and gave us A Boy and His Blob for the NES. It was incredibly unique and intriguing at the time of its release. It was one of the first games to feature a non-playable sidekick who assisted in gameplay. A blob followed the main character around like a loyal canine. After feeding it various flavors of jelly beans, the blob turned into different items to help the protagonist proceed. A year after the original came out, a sequel was released. However, much like Pitfall II, the Game Boy follow-up barely expands on the original. It's a bit like the Japanese Super Mario Bros 2 versus the original: new levels built on almost the exact same game. However, if you're like me and you enjoyed the original, you will have a good time with this. Just don't expect it to change your life, in the same way that Daddy Day Camp didn't... I hope. Also, this may be your only hope to ever feed blobs on the go. At E3 2005, another iteration was announced for the Nintendo DS, but not much has been heard since.
[subhead]The Successor: Kid Icarus: Of Myths and Monsters[/subhead]
This is NES to Game Boy evolution: A game that plays much like the original but improves on it greatly. Video Games are interesting in that they allow the creator (or loyal successor) to enhance an original idea with great fan tolerance. In other mediums, it doesn't work so well. Should George Lucas decide to tweak the Star Wars Original Trilogy one more time, he may need to wear a bullet-proof vest in public. However, gamers are surprisingly supportive of touching old work, whether it be simple fixes, graphical updates, or entire re-imaginings. Of Myths and Monsters gives the NES Kid Icarus a big shot in the arm. One of the biggest problems of the original was the slightly sluggish controls coupled with an unforgiving vertical scroll that instantly made the end of the bottom of the screen a death pit. The Game Boy iteration fixes this, allowing free scrolling and backtracking. This coupled with the use of Pit's wings to slowly land your jumps makes this game much less frustrating. Many fans of the original are not even aware of the portable edition's existence. That's a real shame. In this gamer's opinion, it's the definitive version.