The Nintendo Entertainment System was the 8-bit savior of the home video game console industry, and the innovator of many significant concepts in gaming history, including advancing the idea of completing a game rather than just repeatedly trying to beat a high score. Although the story its history and influences are told in many other places, here we are going to focus instead on its lack of influence; that is, five gameplay concepts that did not seem to make the transition to later systems.
Okay, admittedly, this is not an element that is entirely absent from modern gameplay, but has it ever been done to the elegant extent of choosing the available angles of control in Marble Madness or the myriad of choices in Rescue: The Embassy Mission? Even Double Dragon II had a clever way of assigning difficulty with titles like “Practice,” “Warrior,” and “Supreme Master,” rather than the “GAME A” and “GAME B” designations found in early cartridges like Kung Fu and Popeye. Sometimes the choice was made in de facto fashion, such as whether or not to use the 30-man code in Contra; other times, it was sublimated into the simple, daunting choice presented at the title screen of Mega Man II.
Every once in a while nowadays, a blockbuster franchise is launched, one that will spawn multiple sequels, hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, and countless product tie-ins. Perhaps it was due to it being the sole home console of the time, the early not-quite-established gaming era, or maybe Nintendo’s knack for bold originality, but it seems that the Nintendo Entertainment System was especially apt for being the launch point for new canons across multiple consoles (Contra, Donkey Kong past the arcade cabinet, Prince of Persia, Mother in Japan spawned the Earthbound games, etc.), including some that still persist decades later, such as the Metal Gear, Super Mario, Castlevania, Tetris, Bomberman, Metroid, Final Fantasy, Legend of Zelda, and other series.
Beat-’em-ups & Run-‘n’-guns
Whether due to advances in technology allowing new gameplay opportunities, cultural trends towards specifics types of gaming, or general development push for certain trends, it seems that video game genres follow cycles that fall in and out of popular appeal. Tracking the popularity of the first-person shooter and role-playing game (especially the JRPG) genres would provide an interesting view of how this happens, but some of the styles of play found on the NES are now almost entirely extinct, including the beat-’em-up kind of game found in great titles like Double Dragon, River City Ransom, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game; and the run-‘n’-gun genre, perfected in the original Contra but tried on many other cartridges like Rolling Thunder, Rush N Attack, and arguably even Bionic Commando. These two distinct types of gaming provided countless rich experiences for millions of gamers, only to be subsequently left by the wayside as video gaming entered three dimensions.
While voice acting obviously holds its advantages in being able to deliver a narrative story, there are still some charming appeal left in the type of dramatic dialogue found in Nintendo Entertainment System games like Ninja Gaiden, Vice: Project Doom, Maniac Mansion, Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode, Dragon Warrior, and many others, whether in the cutscenes of action platformers or the majority of dialogue through vast roleplay quests. Delivering the words through text allows the reader to form the perfect voice in their mind, while also eliminating the possibility of bad voice work ruining the otherwise immersive experience. After all, the power of text is the reason that books (and articles like this one) still exist.
For some of us, the often-misunderstood “adventure” genre (sometimes labeled action adventure, overhead adventure, top-down adventure, etc.) seemed to represent an ideal gameplay hybrid, melding the character-building aspects of a role-player with the real-time fighting of an action game. Watching the steady increase of trait stats while battling hordes with quick reflexes and varied weapons was often an awesome experience that emphasized story and environment, only adding to the deep overall experience. This, too, could be considered a victim of the move to three dimensions, but in all actuality, many modern games loosely persist in this genre, but with a third-person or over-the-shoulder view (hello Grand Theft Auto) instead. The NES video games like Legend of Zelda, StarTropics, Magic of Scheherazade, and portions of The Guardian Legend and Blaster Master all provided potentially spectacular, long-term gameplay challenges that stretched the limits of both gamers’ skill and overall video game presentation. Even underrated titles like Spiritual Warfare are worth a playthrough, though perhaps not true for truly poor examples like Hydlide.
Even if these aspects of the NES are missed in modern games, though, that does not necessarily mean that gaming has taken a giant step backward. Video games will only continue to grow, evolve, and adjust to the demands of gamers, the strength of market demand, and the innovations of technology. As this happens, other vestiges will be eliminated; and perhaps, of those, some more will be missed.