December is a very special time for me, multiple birthdays to celebrate, my anniversary and the reason for the season, CHRISTmas! This year, I wanted to do something a bit different and special, so this year I’m dubbing “Retro-cember”, a look at as many retro games, locked to the 8 & 16 Bit consoles. Every day, I’ll be looking at a different game of my choosing and just talking a bit about them.
December 1st: Marble Madness (NES)
Marble Madness for the NES, made by Mark Cerny was one of my favorites as a kid. With my first cellphone, back in 2001, I was able to record the Level 2 music on my tape deck and make it my answering machine. While the game can be completed in just around 5 minutes, it's anything but easy. The first 3 levels are a piece of cake. With Level 3 also being the first instance I ever remember of the musical theory of Dissonance. But once you get to the Everything You Know Is Wrong level (a good Weird Al song by the way) it moves into the tough as nails category. Requiring a good amount of memorization. The last couple levels are just brutal, but it also is a game that I can play through once every few years and feel like a kid again. Bringing back memories of my physical Marble Run toys my aunt gave me for Christmas.
December 2nd: StarFox 2 (SNES)
Inspired by a guy in the Discord server and his SNES Classic still unopened, I was reminded why I bought that thing when it launched. For the sheer fact that it contained the fabled lost SNES game Star Fox 2. Having to play through Star Fox 1 in order to unlock it was also a cool little treat that was unexpected. But going back to the game for the first time since 2017, I completely forgot how much better it is than the first game.
While I do think Star Fox is a cool game, 2 ups it in every conceivable way. With the map allowing more exploration and letting you chart your own course, it also puts a bit of an expediency on the game with its semi-turn based defense. Along with the game's dogfighting levels, it's almost unreal how this game works on a SNES and is so crazy that Nintendo canceled it for no reason. Sure it wouldn't have sold as well as Star Fox 64, but people would have still loved it and played it all those years ago.
December 3rd: Road Rash (Sega Genesis)
I have some very good and fond memories of the first Road Rash, I believe I've told the story here before, so I'll tell another one. When most people think of Sega Genesis (or Mega Drive if you are outside of the US) a handful of games come to mind, but for me, I always think of Road Rash as one of the first games. With the weird yellow tag on the cartridge, you knew instantly it was an EA game, back when EA meant something. I love this game, played through the first level of tracks, and while I know the Genesis gets hated on because of it's sound chip, good music is good music, and this game has GREAT music.
December 4th: PaperBoy (Sega Master System)
I have a weirdly deep love of this series. While I have fonder memories of the NES version, I decided to play the Sega Master System version, which is much more aligned with the Arcade game than the other 8-bit version on the NES. The speed is almost break neck and the tricycle riders on the larger street sections no longer look like `motorcycle grannies" (Which is what my cousin and I would call them). I think besides the grim reaper, my favorite character/ obstacle is the breakdancing kid (who my cousin and I thought was just someone trying to pull up his pants while he was on the ground in the NES version... that one is just so odd looking compared to the real game)
December 5th: Zen - Intergalactic Ninja (NES)
A strange game that I never see people talk about, but it was always one that I remember because of my best friend Andrew. He had this game and I only borrowed it once, but it always stuck with me. I came to find out earlier this year that there was a comic book that lasted 6 issues, which now safely resides on my comic server. But the game itself is a platformer that has an underlying message about pollution. It’s got a bonus stage about recycling and an entire level is devoted to Acid Rain, which I was sorely disappointed to find out later in life that it’s not actual rain that is acidic in nature and doesn’t cause corrosion like you’d think.
December 6th: The Punisher (Sega Genesis)
Almost every night while I lay in bed, I read some comics before hitting the proverbial sack of hay. Over the last couple nights, I've gone through some of The Punisher comics, and finished up Welcome Back, Frank, which I didn't know was the basis for the Tom Jane 2004 Punisher film. Anyways, that got me wanting to play The Punisher games, I originally was going to just do the NES version, but that game is pretty boring after just a few short minutes. So I opted for the Genesis version that lets you have a 2nd player tag along for the punishing fun, and includes the hashtag my Nick Fury. It's a fairly fun and basic side scrolling brawler, but it's great. And the odd powerup of a gun in which you get to murder fools with is just the icing on the cake of why I rented this multiple times when I was a kid.
December 7th: Bomberman (NES)
Bomberman is a game that always reminds me of Thanksgiving, because it was always my uncle's favorite game. Even as I grew up and would play much more advanced games, every Thanksgiving, my uncle would find me in one of the rooms where all my cousins would be playing games and ask me to bust out the Original Nintendo and play some Bomberman. I have some other Bomberman stories, but I'll save that for another time.
December 8th: Cool Spot (Sega Genesis)
What’s cooler than being cool? A Spot. Cool Spot, the classic 7-Up mascot got a couple games on the 16 Bit console, and I rented this one a few times and each time I did, I had a blast. Collecting and platforming around all the various levels was fun if it was more of a marketing gimmick than anything else. But hey, us kids were marketed to by everything we enjoyed. G.I. Joes, Transformers, Cool Spot and even Captain Planet!
December 9th: Dirt Trax FX (SNES)
Dirt Trax FX for the Super Nintendo is one that I’m fairly sure most people have no idea exists. And if they do, they’d almost immediately dismiss it because of the graphics. While the graphics now, which utilize the FX chip look pretty rough today, it was pretty cutting edge back when it came out. It was yet another long line of games that I rented with my best friend Andrew and we always had a blast with this one. The stand out multiplayer Rad Tag mode is really what sets it apart and we had so many matches going back and forth.
December 10th: Excitebike (NES)
Playing Dirt Trax FX got me to think back to the original dirt bike game on the NES, and even though it’s a very basic and simple game, it’s still enjoyable decades later. One of my fondest memories of Excitebike is having Otter-pops (frozen flavored icicle treats) and racing with my cousin. As a young kid it took me a while to understand that
December 11th: Quackshot (Sega Genesis)
Quackshot is one of the first games I can remember playing on the Genesis. Besides Sonic, Quackshot was a game I went back to over and over again, the memorable music, the fun plunger sticking to the wall mechanic and the cool way you go back to levels to unlock more of the area later on in the game, by calling Launchpad. Even if you aren’t a Disney person, Quackshot is a great platformer and it can be beaten in one sitting.
December 12th: The Simpsons: Bart vs the space mutants (NES)
This is an odd one, I know that most will classify this as one of the “worst games ever”, but it really isn't. It is way more difficult than it should be, and the controls are a bit tough to get used to with the inconsistent jumping, but other than that, it’s a totally cromulent Simpsons game. I used to play this game every time I went over to my cousin’s house, because I wasn’t allowed to watch The Simpsons, and this was the only way I could get a Simpsons fix. As a kid I was only able to ever get to the beginning of the second level, but I still have fond memories of this game, even though it seems no one else does.
December 13th: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker (Sega Genesis)
Michael Jackson was such a big part of Sega and I’m so happy this game exists. One of my first YouTube videos was just his scream at the level loading. The Genesis Moonwalker is different from the Arcade version, and it’s my preferred version to play as well. While Thriller is not the level music for the graveyard, Another Part Of Me is still awesome. The sprite work and animation are probably my favorite things and I remember just playing the music select section over and over to have 16-bit renditions on those songs.
December 14th: NHL Stanley Cup (SNES)
I’m not a big sports guy at all, but there is something about sports games that captivates me every once in a while. Mostly when the game brings out the more violent and crazy nature of the sport. Back in 1994 I was at the local trade in store where I got random games while my mom was shopping, and I ended up trying out NHL Stanley Cup on the Super Nintendo. My uncle was into Hockey and I’d occasionally try and watch it with him when I stayed over. The game felt like it was 3D with its spinning camera and Mode 7 rotation and scaling. It might not be the best hockey game out there, but I certainly do enjoy it for a game or two. Plus, it’s just funny and an all around good time when you send a dude flying when you check him.
December 15th: Splatterhouse (TurboGrafx-16)
I never owned a TurboGrafx-16 growing up, it was only after I owned a video game store that I grabbed one from inventory and took it home. It’s a weird but neat little system, and one game that I didn’t even know was one until way later was Splatterhouse. I grew up playing it on the Genesis, but I wanted to give a little love and also try my hand at the TurboGrafx version. The main character, who resembles Jason from Friday the 13th, but totally not Jason, works his way through a haunted house area to save his kidnapped girlfriend. It’s very light on animation, mechanics and overall things to do. But one thing it does better than 99% of games of that era, the gore. Good grief this game is bloody, and I’m really surprised they got away with it when it came out. It’s easy to play through and very short, which makes it the perfect “pick up and play for a few minutes”.
December 16th: Rocket Knight Adventures (Sega Genesis)
Another game in a long list of games I remember renting from Blockbuster. Rocket Knight Adventures features an opossum named Sparkster. A little platformer that I really thought was so cool when I was a kid. Mostly because of the JetPack ability. Charging the pack up and letting go and sending Sparkster across the screen was always so cool. Along with the little gimmick of hanging on a tree upside down by his tale. Side note: Rocket Knight Adventures was only on Genesis, but the next game called “Sparkster” came out on both Genesis and SNES. The Genesis version is a direct sequel and much worse, with awful graphics, and the SNES version is a totally different game, more of a side-story and much more like the original Genesis game. I have no clue why.
December 17th: Toobin’ (NES)
When it comes to relaxing, I think of what this game portrays… chillin’ out in an innertube floating down a river. Even if fishermen almost catch me with their hooks, or an alligator comes out to chop me to death, or if a Bandito shoots me up… it’s all good. I actually mostly know this unlicensed NES game thanks to my youth pastor. He would always ask me to play this game with him, and he loved the Arcade version with the guy screaming “Woah!” when he goes down a waterfall.
December 18th: Illusion Of Gaia (SNES)
A game that I NEVER hear anyone talk about, Illusion of Gaia is a Action RPG, very similar in game play to Zelda: A Link to the Past. Part of something I learned much later in life called the “Quintet Trilogy” where there was a semi-spiritual successor called Terranigma on the SNES, but was only released in Europe and not the US. I eventually got around to playing it years later, but never got into it like I hoped I would. I think Gaia’s soundtrack is something special, and the story that uses real world locations and deals with some of the Wonders of the World are really cool to visit. I’ll always remember playing this with some Weird Al tunes playing on my little boombox in the background.
December 19th: Jungle Strike (Sega Genesis)
I never got into the Strike games like I should have, mostly because I was pretty young and didn’t want to actually pay attention to all the dialog and cut scenes. I just wanted to shoot things and blow stuff up. So when I sat down and played Jungle Strike, the sequel to Desert Strike I actually had to pay attention to the story, and get debriefed on the current situation to understand the goals of the game. Because it just sets you down in the middle of Washington D.C. on the White House lawn and if you just start shooting and blowing up buildings without any idea of what to really do, you fail the mission. Learning how the game wanted me to play it was definitely worth the few minutes of reading and understanding the mechanics and I enjoy the series a lot more now because of it.
December 20th: Bonk’s Adventure (TurboGrafx-16)
I always saw Bonk in gaming magazines and wanted to play it, but with his games being tied to the TurboGrafx-16 exclusively, I didn’t play Bonk for years after. I think I did maybe rent it years later in 1993 when it came out on the NES because I was curious, but I’m not really sure. Bonk’s massive head and the way he freaked out and got angry and also massive always appealed to me whenever I saw it in magazines. But once I played it, I didn’t really feel like it was very special besides a couple good sprites and the massive T-Rex in the first level.
December 21st: Uniracers (SNES)
Over the years this game has gotten a fairly bad rap, and I don’t understand why. I remember loving this game when it came out, and the uniqueness of the game is still unparalleled. Who doesn’t love the crazy loops and fast speed of autonomous unicycles battling it out for first place in a weird checkerboard pattern race track of twisting tubes and maze-like sections?
December 22nd: Ranger X (Sega Genesis)
I got this game because my mom saw it at a garage sale, and it was just a loose cart. I immediately was drawn to the cool looking robot with his motorcycle pal. Being able to join together and drive around the first level was also just a blast. Learning how the game works was a bit tough at first, but I remember always enjoying this game even if I never beat it.
December 23rd: Little Nemo Dream Master (NES)
An animated movie that no one seems to know about got a NES game and I only owned this game because my cousin’s boyfriend gave it to me while she was babysitting me and he was trying to be cool in front of her. I ended up becoming obsessed with this game, and for good reason. The candy that you toss at certain characters allows Nemo to inhabit them and use their powers. Like a gopher that can dig, or a lizard that can crawl up the side of walls… It’s a really cool game that I never hear anyone ever talk about.
December 24th: Knights Of The Round (SNES)
One of my favorite Christmas gifts was Knights Of The Round on Super Nintendo, solely because of my mom. She went out trying to find something to bundle with my console, and couldn’t get the games I wanted, but she thought a game about King Arthur seemed like I’d be into. I originally didn’t think I’d like it, but after putting it in, I fell in love with this Capcom side scrolling brawler, which I later found out was an Arcade port. The leveling up system is pretty interesting, and seeing the characters get more armored as they level up is cool.
December 25th: King of Kings (NES)
It’s Christmas, and the reason for the season is Jesus. I grew up in a Christian home and my parents bought this game for me because it featured Joseph and Mary and little baby Jesus. The game is technically three games in one with The Wise Men, Flight to Egypt and Jesus and the Temple. Even though it’s an unlicensed Nintendo game, I still remember it as one of the bigger games for the system I had when I was a kid. My favorite was The Wise Men, where you play as the wise men traveling to bring gifts to baby Jesus. Controlling a camel, that spits, and finding scrolls with bible trivia that give health if answered correctly. Each game has a Christmas carol as its background music and I’ll always love that game and it brings back great Christmas memories.
December 26th: Batman Forever (Sega Genesis)
Batman Forever is another game that gets a bad rap. While I can say now that, sure, it’s not a great game, I do have very fond memories of it. I was obsessed with Batman, and especially Batman Forever. In fact, it’s still my personal favorite Batman movie (with both the original Burton Batman and Returns being in close second and third). But as a kid, Forever with Jim Carrey’s Riddler was just absolutely perfect casting. I wore out that Soundtrack CD (Bad Days by The Flaming Lips was one of my favorites). The game itself is bizarre, but I still found it fun. I’ll never forget spending Christmas Eve on the floor of a bookstore with the strategy guide and copying notes down into a notebook to take home because I didn’t have the money to buy it.
December 27th: Wolverine (NES)
I bought this game for my best friend’s birthday, and it kicked off a lifelong friendship back in 2nd grade. I know how everyone bags on LJN for being low quality (and yeah, sure most of them are), but this game isn’t bad at all. The platforming is solid, the levels interesting and the music is absolutely amazing.
December 28th: Thunder Force II (Sega Genesis)
Another garage sale game my mom got me for my Genesis. I had such a hard time understanding what to do in this game when I was a kid. I’d alway get turned around and lost and die before moving on to the next level. It was only after emulation that I tracked down a ROM and set my sights on beating it on my birthday one year. A special mention needs to be said to the very beginning, when the small digitized voice tells you good luck, but the way I always heard it was “Nanu, good luck” which made me think of Mork and Mindy.
December 29th: Flashback: The Quest For Identity (SNES)
I rented this game and immediately fell in love with the graphics, the gameplay that felt like real motion, and the much more mature storyline of a future where aliens are pretending to be human. I rented it a few times before I was able to buy the copy outright from the rental store. I remember staying up way later than I was supposed to trying to beat the game. When they announced a sequel at E3 this year, I just got giddy.
December 30th: Adventures In The Magic Kingdom (NES)
I was always a Disney kid, mostly since I lived like 25 minutes way from Disneyland most of my life, having a annual pass for a decade plus in my highschool years, I remember this game as a way to “ride the rides” in video game form when I was super young and Disneyland was still very special. It’s really interesting to see how they make Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain and Space Mountain into platforming, flying, driving and other types of genres. Answering the trivia is pretty simple, but there are a few questions in there that are actually tough if you aren’t a Disney fan.
December 31st: ToeJam and Earl (Sega Genesis)
I always loved the idea of ToeJam and Earl games, but as a kid, I was never good at them. Mostly because the series (which consisted of only two on the Genesis till 2002 with 3 on the Xbox) was so hard to wrap my mind around. The first and second game are barely identifiable as a series, since they are so different. But the first one was always much more difficult because of the two player nature and the procedural generation of the levels. It wasn’t until around 2015 that I ended up playing through it with my best friend Andrew and really understood how to actually play it. Opening presents cautiously, or getting money throughout the level to get the wise man (in a carrot costume) to tell me what the presents were. There is a lot to the game, and once I realized what the game was, I loved every moment of it. There was and still really isn’t anything like ToeJam and Earl, and the 90’s funk and groove style still continues to be outstanding all these years later. The 4th game that came out in 2019 is also phenomenal.