This year marked a significant addition to the NES library of Game Paks: the Adventure Series. 1985 and 1986 mainly focused on classic arcade action games and a smattering of sports fare. When 1987 came along, we saw a distinct shift in Nintendo and its third party licensee’s output of games to include the new Adventure game genre for the platform. It’s a sign that the NES is a powerful machine capable of so much more than many originally thought, and that’s good for gamer and home console gaming in general.
Adventure games are not new to the industry. In fact, we saw the beginnings of the genre on the Atari 2600 with games like Pitfall and the very-appropriately named game, Adventure. What’s different with this generation of home machines is that they contain faster and more powerful processing chips, which allows game developers to really deliver an amazing experience that can’t be found in the arcades. That’s because coin-op games, by their very design, are supposed to entertain for minutes at a time, not hours or days. They are supposed to be tough as nails to try and suck as many quarters away from players as possible. Nintendo and its third parties will have already made their money as soon as you purchase their games, and in fairness these new more complex entries do often cost more than the basic arcade ports of the past few years.
But what exactly is an adventure game? Well, it’s not an exact science, but generally speaking they are more open-ended than traditional games. In other words, they’re usually less linear. If you take a look at something like Super Mario Bros., you’ll see that each level is laid out in order. The goal is to progress sequentially through each course until you reach the end. Adventure games often throw that idea out the window and let the player choose which direction to go in and how to progress. Although some adventure games will still be linear in nature, they often give the appearance that the player is making all of the decisions. Also, many of the games that fall into this genre have more complex gameplay mechanics and often utilize inventory screens with multiple items to find and use. Puzzle solving, map-making, and a longer time to completion are common traits as well. Although not a requirement, many adventure titles have ditched the notion of a score and instead make finishing the game a reward in itself.
Nintendo is betting that you’ll be willing to pay an extra $10 or $15 for a more expansive experience that spans not just hours but days and weeks. Its first game in the Adventure Series released this past summer at a suggested retail price of $44.95: The Legend of Zelda. Most of you probably recognize the name. It has been one of the best selling games of the year thanks in large part to its vast overworld, which is filled with secret areas to discover and puzzles to solve. No doubt you’ve exchanged tips and tricks with your fellow gamers to try and successfully navigate the dark mazes and dungeons that are designed to not only test your reflexes, but also your brain. In Japan this game was released on a special disk, but Nintendo of America figured out a battery back-up solution on cartridge that allows gamers to record their progress in one of three save slots. The title features more memory with bigger worlds, numerous items to find, and trickier gameplay mechanics. The game’s sequel, The Adventure of Link, is scheduled to ship early next year and promises even bigger challenges. Plus, their gold-colored cartridges are too pretty to pass up!
Not content with launching an entirely new line of games with just one title, Nintendo also published Kid Icarus and Metroid about a month after Zelda hit store shelves. They both have one key thing in common: exploration, encouraging players to examine every nook and cranny for secret power-ups and passages. Both also include a new password system that allows players to continue with their inventory of items after turning off the NES Control Deck. Trust us when we tell you that you’ll need days and maybe even weeks to get through all of the screens in these games on your first try. Naturally repeat plays should go much quicker. Nintendo has really played up the narrative with their adventure games, giving each of them bigger full-color instruction booklets to facilitate better story telling. The result is a more complete gaming experience than we’ve ever had before.
Nintendo’s not going it alone this year with the adventure games. In fact, Tecmo beat Nintendo to the punch with its excellent Rygar Game Pak earlier in the year. This title deserves some credit because it took an already fun arcade game and converted it into something truly special for the NES. It combines both side-scrolling action with a whip-like weapon and overhead exploration to create something wonderfully memorable. You’ll explore vast regions and gain new powers by finding special items and power-ups to help you along the way. The biggest negative here is that the game doesn’t feature the nice quality of life options that Nintendo is providing with its games. In other words, there isn’t a nice color instruction book or battery back up or a password system. This means this somewhat long adventure needs to be completed in one sitting or you need to leave your NES turned on for days at a time. You’ll just have to cross your fingers and hope your parents don’t turn off the power!
The most recent Adventure Series game to hit the NES is The Goonies II from Konami. The powerful development house has really outdone themselves with this latest release. It contains a multitude of environments to explore with tons of secrets to discover. You’ll need to locate each of your Goonie pals, but to do so you must find more powerful weapons and items. The game is vast with both a front and a backside to explore. It can be somewhat confusing – so much so that we resorted to mapping out certain sections on graph paper to make sure we wouldn’t get lost. It features a password system so you can continue your game where you left off.
All of the games we’ve discussed in this article are fantastic candidates for purchase. They offer hours upon hours of stuff to do and it’s refreshing to have more complex choices made available for the NES. In Japan these titles as well as role-playing games (RPGs) are cream of the crop and tend to sell the best. It’s obvious Nintendo is hoping to repeat the formula over here, and so far we think they’re on to something big. That’s not to say we want every game to move over to the Adventure Series label – variety is the spice of life after all! However, we’d be lying if we said we weren’t excited to see what’s next for this new genre. After all, much like a movie or a book, getting immersed and completely lost in a video game’s world is half the fun.