9 NES Licensed Property Games that Don’t Suck

Finally, here’s my first retro review post. The Nintendo Entertainment System is notorious for its vast library of games based on television, movie, comic, and even book properties. Sadly, it was also notorious for these types of games being laughably horrible. Many a child of the 80s and 90s was tortured by the sloppy mechanics and horrible design of crappy games based on their favorite movies and cartoons. These types of games usually suffered such a miserable fate due to the simple fact of the name alone selling the product. Developers knew they didn’t have to dedicate the kind of hard work and time that was put into original masterpieces like Ninja Gaiden or Castlevania, because kids would buy anything with a familiar title slapped across it. Almost all of our beloved mascots were brand new at the time, so companies really had to give original games their all to ensure sales. But for games based on recent blockbusters, they just figured “who cares, kids all know and love these characters”, and that’s how trash like Home Alone 2 ended up in so many kids’ households.

But, were all of these licensed property based games as bad as The Blues Brothers or Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure? No. Sure, they were few and far between, but some of our favorite movies and television shows actually received the proper treatment they deserved. Here are nine of my personal favorites right now. Why not go to ten? Well, I like odd numbers… but believe me, there are more games of this type that don’t suck. Maybe I’ll discuss more of those in the future. These are placed in no sort of order. No worst to best or best to worst or anything.

DW

DARKWING DUCK by Capcom

Based on the popular Disney channel series of the same name, Darkwing Duck is only one of Capcom’s many 8-bit masterpieces. This game not only captures the setting, musical style, and most of everybody’s favorite characters from the cartoon, but it plays like a gem, too. The game feels a lot like Megaman. There are seven areas with unique bosses. You can select among three at a time. It’s a standard side-scrolling, shooter-platformer, and again, it really does play A LOT like Megaman, only with some added features. Holding UP allows Drake to guard with his cape, which is a great addition, and is crucial in some situations. This gives you far more battle strategy. Another common ability is grabbing. Anytime you see a hanging, thin platform, rather than standing on it, you can grab it and hang from it. These cool moves make for a unique experience, as well as some interchangeable weapons like the plunger gun which helps DW reach secret items. The gameplay is fast and action packed. It’s pretty difficult, but the levels are generally short and have generous checkpoints (I don’t consider difficulty a bad thing as long as it’s fair). The challenge of the game is good and gives it a long lifespan. The controls are extremely tight and fluent and the music kicks ass. My only complaint would probably be the lack of Nega-Duck as the final boss. Other than that, you couldn’t ask for a better game for the terror that flaps in the night.

Darkwing Duck, like most of Capcom’s Disney games (or just most of their NES games in general) is a game, if not currently owned by collectors, that should be gotten ASAP, as its price is rapidly rising in recent years. On average it goes for between $40 and $50 on eBay, and you may be able to find it for between $20 and $30 if you’re lucky at flea markets or in bulk bundles for cheap on Craig’s List (or at select mom and pop shops, though many are raising their prices to match eBay). DW’s price has risen from around $35 on eBay to around $50 in only a year or two, so now would be the time to grab it before it gets even steeper.

SS

SILVER SURFER by Software Creations

Opinions on this game seem to often be mixed, namely due to its relentless difficulty. A bad misconception among most modern gamers is that extremely difficult games are bad, but on the contrary, I feel difficulty only improves the satisfaction and length of the game. Beating an easy game that holds your hand and gives you limitless lives and checkpoints just feels like you spent a lot of time doing nothing, but a game that really kicks your ass and shows you no mercy makes you feel like a badass after you turn around and finally beat it, and Silver Surfer can create that satisfaction perfectly. Each stage is a hyper-adrenaline rush with an onslaught of hazards charging at you. Many times, the difficulty can come from the sheer fear of the player, as the mass of enemies appears more unstoppable than it actually is. Usually, a simple constant stream of attacks, especially with the help of power-ups, can clear out whatever lies ahead. The game’s challenge mostly comes from constantly taking out the monsters racing to collide with the Surfer while also using quick reflexes to dodge structures and shots simultaneously. It may take a lot of practice, but when you finally take out a boss, you feel like a champion. The game is obviously flawed in some ways, as many have stated before, namely due to the lack of energy and the need to manually fire your weapon. While these are problems, I feel the pure intensity, action, fast pace, and constant test of reactions and skill, along with some of the most amazing musical tracks on the NES (along with Pictionary – weirdly enough – this game has some of the most badass and impressively complex music on the console) more than makes up for any flaws and completes the package as a solid classic.

Luckily, Silver Surfer remains a very cheap title. On eBay you can often find it between $10 and $20, and it can quite commonly be found at flea markets and mom & pop shops for as low as 5 or 6 bucks.

A3

ALIEN 3 by LJN

Alien 3 may be a heavily flawed game, but it has enough redeeming qualities, and enough nostalgia attached to it to make it in this batch. The game is fairly short, but the few levels you face are nail-biting races against time that require mastery of each one. I do find the concept of exploring, then dying, then playing it again and beating it lame, but once you start to learn the game, it can be fun to try and race through it and see how good your time can be. The whole game is really a speed run. It has pretty badass graphics and music, and decent controls. It is extremely flawed in someways, like the time factor, especially considering how few lives you get, and the camera seems to have trouble keeping up with Ripley. I wouldn’t say this one’s for everybody, nor would I say it’s anything special, but I also wouldn’t say it sucks.

Alien 3 usually goes for cheap – $10-$15 typically on eBay, and around $8 the lowest at flea markets and mom & pop stores, of course with exceptions here and there.

BOH

CAPTAIN BUCKY O’HARE AND THE TOAD WARS by Konami

Based on the sadly short-lived animated series, which was based on the sadly unpopular comic series, Bucky O’Hare is a freaking gem. The game’s superb quality seems to have been getting more and more recognition online in the past year or two, but this amazing title has been kicking ass for over 20 years. Sometimes dubbed as “Konami’s Megaman”, Bucky plays quite a bit like that, but far less so than Darkwing Duck. Bucky O’Hare is a unique shooter-platformer with extreme difficulty and fun gameplay. The controls, while feeling a bit weighed down on air physics at times, are solid. The game allows Bucky to recover his captured buddies who become alternate playable characters once rescued. You can swap between Bucky, Blinky, Deadeye, Jenny, and Willy with SELECT, all of whom have unique abilities and statistics. The game does a great job of incorporating lots of key characters from the series (sadly, you never get to assume the role of Bruiser, the unstoppable Berserker Baboon, though) and has an extremely kick-ass soundtrack. Seriously, just listen to the Green and Red Planets’ tracks and tell me they aren’t some of the catchiest tunes you’ve ever heard. The game’s only flaws are the slightly weighted air physics, which Konami was quite famous for at the time, and that some of the difficulty at times can be a bit unfair. I swear Bucky is the only character who can even actually defeat Al Negator of the Blue Planet.

While this is one of the best games in this bunch in my personal opinion, it is sadly also the most expensive. Although it could still be found for around $35 a few years ago on eBay, it has jumped drastically to an average of $95 or higher. I’ve never seen this beauty at a live seller’s spot, so I can’t help you much with those prices. Here’s praying you will be lucky enough to stumble upon a hapless dope who knows not what they sell.

JP

JEOPARDY by Rare/Tradewest

Sure, it’s just Jeopardy, but it’s surprisingly good for such a simple concept. I know, it doesn’t have a lot of replay value as once you learn all the questions, it’s done, but it’s definitely entertaining for a night or two with some friends. The game allows single player, as well as 2 or 3 players (taking turns with one controller) and different categories for every difficulty. It goes a little easy on you always letting you pick the first topic, but whatever. For what it was meant to be, it’s damn near perfect. The flaws? Well, they’re not major, but the weird button config (DOWN to answer a question, or, should I say, DOWN to question an answer) and that it can be a little stupid with recognizing your answer. You can write the correct response, but since it wasn’t worded EXACTLY as they programmed it, you lose. For modern gamers the trivia will probably seem incredibly dated, but its fun for a history lesson, then. What’s the best part about the game, though? YOU GET TO BE GREEN PEOPLE!

If you REALLY like this game, be glad to know there’s also the Jeopardy Anniversary Edition, and Junior Jeopardy on NES, too, as well as Wheel of Fortune by the same team. As for the price? Dirt cheap. You can find any version of this game for as low as $2 or even a few cents online or at markets.

TMNT

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES GAMES by Ultra (Konami)

It’s no mystery that the NES TMNT lineup was freaking epic, so they need to be on here. The first one, however, is widely regarded as a turd, but I still love that game. Sure, it’s mercilessly hard, unfair at times, but it’s still a solid side-scrolling platformer with good challenge, unique mechanics, and creative gameplay. The other two adventure titles – Turtles 2: The Arcade Game, and Turtles 3: Manhattan Project, are about as good as beat-em-ups get on the NES. They’re also gruelingly difficult, but fun as hell with a buddy or going solo. I honestly find them to be a bit more repetitive than the style of the first TMNT game, as I find many beat-em-ups to be. They certainly got it right with character representation and hip, fun action, but you only fight a handful of enemies over the course of the games. Once you learn how to beat those few enemies, it’s more or less the same stuff over and over, whereas the level structure, increasing difficulty, and enemy placement of the first TMNT game give it far greater suspense and variety, on top of the overworld areas and van sequences. Even when variety is attempted in the beat-em-up titles, it’s more just a visual gimmick placed on top of the same thing, like the water board stage. But, repetition aside, TMNT 2 & 3 are loads of fun for everyone, and were everything a TMNT fan at the time could have wanted. There was also Tournament Fighters… yeah. I mean, it was pretty impressive being on the NES, but it plays an awful lot like Shaq Fu. At least they had Casey Jones playable, the other versions didn’t have that (I’m looking at you, crappy SNES version) and Hothead was an interesting choice.

TMNT 1 &2 were extremely common back in the day, so they’ve remained cheap as hell. Online and at markets you can often find both games for $5-$10 or cheaper each. You can even find complete boxed and manual copies for as low as $20-$30 some times. Manhattan Project is a bit steeper due to its rarity and often goes for $15-$30, though I have seen it for less at mom and pop shops. I didn’t own that one as a kid, but snagged it around 2008 for $8 at a shop. Tournament Fighters has become stupid expensive, being it was the least popular rendition of the game back then, and is now typically over $100 online.

G2

GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH by Sunsoft

How can you not love Gremlins? What a fun, hilarious, and demented pair of films. I remember renting this title as a kid around 1991, and it honestly has held up well. It’s a top-down game like Zelda, but the platforming works surprisingly well for its style. The jumping, while difficult sometimes, is damn fluent and easy to control. You assume the role of Gizmo as he sneaks around the television station fighting genetically modified vegetables and gremlins with propellers strapped to their heads. You have a basic projectile attack which gets upgraded at the end of every area. The game is short, but extremely difficult. Levels aren’t very long, but are loaded with traps. Within each stage is also a shop to obtain much-needed health or power-ups, and if you collect the spheres dropped by each defeated enemy, affording these items will never be a problem. The game’s good controls, unique format, and kooky, oddball style make it a lovable classic. The biggest complaint I have is how difficult it is to make Gizmo throw his attack diagonally. Some may see the generally linear level structure as a flaw, as the stages appear to be quasi-maze-like at times, but I feel the more linear attempt fits this game better, as the complicated structure probably would have taken away from the action, as well as the desire to progress.

The game is relatively cheap, usually ranging between $12 and $25 on eBay, and around $10 or less at flea markets and such. Definitely an underrated game worth adding to your collection.

BM

BATMAN by Sunsoft

Another Sunsoft classic, Batman is the greatest in NES superhero titles. From the pumping music, intense action, fluid controls, unique and acrobatic abilities, and relentless challenge, Batman is certain to please all old-school action-platformer fans. There really isn’t much to complain about. Some of the difficulty can seem a bit unfair, but honestly, it’s mostly because you didn’t take the time to think out how to precisely get through. This need for precision and planning while also fighting and running create the closest feeling to being Batman that an 8-bit game possibly can – you’ve got to be tough, fast, and fit, but you also need to think and be careful and clever about every move. Gotta love those dark and ominous graphics, too.

Like Gremlins 2, Batman’s usually pretty damn cheap. It’s often listed between $10 and $15 on eBay, and can easily be found for about $8 or $5 at flea markets or mom & pop shops.

DT

DUCK TALES by Capcom

Like the TMNT games, Duck Tales is often regarded as one of the greatest NES games ever, and for good reason. Capcom’s masterpiece sees Scrooge embark on a journey allover the planet (and solar system) to collect treasure with incredibly unique abilities like the pogo-cane. The game isn’t too challenging, but it’s fun beyond reason, a pleasure to control, to say the least, and addictive. The soundtrack is outstanding, accompanying bright, beautiful 8-bit graphics. The game involves lots of exploring and replay value. Hell, I can’t say anything bad about this game. If you’ve never played it, what are you waiting for? Go play it!

Ducktales, while rising in price, is far cheaper than Darkwing Duck usually. On eBay it often goes between $17 and $25, and can be found as low as $10 or $15 if you go to the right markets.

So, I hope I’ve helped you young’uns and collectors fine tune your searches for old gems. While all these games will likely not satisfy all of you, these are 9 titles I feel are exceptional. Hope you all enjoyed reading my Nine Games list, and I plan to have another one up soon! Happy game-hunting, old-schoolers!

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  • https://www.wearejustgamers.com/ R.Hoffmann

    Excellent article, I remember having a lot of fun with Darkwing Duck, TMNT and of course Duck Tales on the NES as well. You listed some pretty great games there!