games / Columns

The 8 Ball: Top 8 Games Before 1990 – Super Mario Bros, Tetris, More

February 27, 2018 | Posted by Marc Morrison
Super Mario Bros

Welcome all to another edition of The 8 Ball! This week is the last of the yearly videos, but I decided to approach it a tad differently. Frankly, my knowledge of anything before 1990 is pretty spotty, I’ve had a NES and played some 80’s era arcade machines, but that’s about it. I’ve never touched a Colecovision or Intellivision, and my lone experience with an Atari 2600 console was getting a used one, looking at the plug and being baffled how to actually connect it to a TV. So, if you’re looking for super old games like, Pong, Space Invaders, Tempest, Pit Fall, then keep on walking, this isn’t for you. I think my earliest game on this list is from 1984, and my knowledge of anything before that really isn’t good. With that said, let’s begin:

#8: Paperboy (1985)

Paperboy really isn’t the deepest of games, but I still kind of enjoy it. The basic premise is that you’re the titular Paperboy as you have to avoid obstacles, throw papers into your customer mailboxes, and hopefully convert houses that don’t belong to you, into your new customers, which increases your score. Looking back at it, Paperboy is kind of a gnarly game, due to the angle of how you play, and some of the collision detection being really odd, but I still have fond memories playing it.

#7: Mega Man 1 (1987)

The original Mega Man is still a pretty cool game to go back to. It’s interesting that it has fewer bosses/mechanics than other MM games, but some other gameplay that hasn’t been seen in any other Mega Man game. I’m talking about the score system/score pick-ups, which made it seem like MM was much more of an arcade-style game, rather than the platformer it morphed into. Also, the bosses in the original Mega Man game are fairly iconic, not only the core 6 robot masters, but Yellow Devil as well (yellow robot that turns into little pieces and teleports). Later Mega Man games are better, for sure, but there is still a pureness to the original game that is nice.

#6: Contra (1987)

Contra is cool, the end. While Contra didn’t start the Konami code, Gradius did, it did popularize the code, especially since the original Contra was a beast of a game that practically require cheating. If you weren’t going to cheat, then you had to have another player with you, since co-op was an important factor of the game. I’m not a fan of the “behind the back” levels in the game, I think the side-scrolling ones are much better, but the original Contra might still be the best in the franchise.

#5: Bubble Bobble (1986)

Goddamn, is the music in this game great or what? It is an insidious track that gets into your head, and can drive you crazy 25+ years after the fact. The gameplay is pretty simple, you play either Bub or Bob as you capture monsters inside the bubbles you spit out, and then pop them. The trick comes in where the levels can become mazes, so it can get to be a challenge to even get to an enemy, let alone to defeat it. This isn’t helped due to some wonky collision detection the game has, but still, Bubble Bobble is a timeless classic.

#4: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1989)

Without TMNT, you wouldn’t have the Simpsons arcade game, and then you wouldn’t have the X-Men arcade game either. The TMNT arcade game might have been notorious for eating quarters but it let you and three friends play as the Turtles as they fought against Shredder’s minions and tried to rescue April O’Neil and Splinter. What’s more, is that every Turtle played differently, Leo was all-around average, Donnie was slower but had reach, Raphael was quicker but his range sucked, and I’ve heard tell that Michaelangelo is a party dude, although this is unconfirmed as of this writing. The game heavily tied into the cartoon show going on, complete with the theme song and voice samples, which helped the immersion factor a lot when you’re going through it.

#3: Super Mario Bros 1 (1985)

It’s funny, the graphics might seem archaic by today’s standards, but the actual gameplay of Super Mario Bros 1 is still as fresh as ever. This was exemplified with Mario Maker, and, it seemed to me, a majority of the levels seemed to take place with the SMB1 physics/game world. There’s only three power ups (mushroom, flower, star), a handful of different game worlds, and all the bosses are the same, but considering when the game came out, and how it essentially launched the NES, and re-started the home console market, this was no easy task.

#2: The Legend of Zelda (1986)

The original Legend of Zelda started the formula that 95% of other Zelda games have. I think, outside of Breath of the Wild an (possibly) Majora’s Mask, all other games follow the general structure of this game: “Go into dungeon, get dungeon map, compass, special item, and then use said item on dungeon boss to get piece of Triforce and heart upgrade.” Granted, not every Zelda game follows this, hell, not even every dungeon in this Zelda game follows this maxim, but it’s been the general formula for the series for the past 30 years. Even aside from how groundbreaking this was, there was a level of open-ness and freedom that almost no other NES game had, or even attempted to reach for. Zelda was not a linear game, you didn’t just go from level to level, it had a big open world for you to explore, monsters to kill, and secret items to unlock and acquire. I’m playing Breath of the Wild now and even I see how much that game is shaped by original Zelda, maybe not in form or function, but in the spirit of this game.

#1: Tetris (1984)

Tetris might be one of my all-time favorite games, period. Everyone knows Tetris, you have to organize 4-squared pieces together so they form a line, which then is erased, giving you points, and more space to play. Outside of Puyo Puyo Tetris, by far the Tetris game I’ve played most was the Game Boy one. Having that be the pack-in game for the Game Boy was a stroke of genius, especially once you got a link cable. Sadly, the NES version of Tetris was a bust, since it didn’t have a two-player option and the Tengen release (with 2 player support) is a rare find nowadays. I could (and do) spend hours even now playing Tetris, that’s how timeless it is.

For comments, list which games you like before 1990 and why.

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Top 8 Rockstar Games

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The 8 Ball (Games), Marc Morrison