Welcome to NES Works, a chronological survey of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s library.
Over the past year and a half, I’ve been exploring the Game Boy’s worldwide library one game at a time — a project that, to my knowledge, no one else has ever bothered to attempt. While I enjoy creating Game Boy World, there’s a very simple reason no one’s ever dissected the system’s library in such detail before: It was rife with mundane, low-grade material. For every incredible Gargoyle’s Quest, Game Boy presents half a dozen tedious puzzle games or poor attempts at action. And while I certainly intend to continue the Game Boy World project indefinitely, I also need an occasional mental break.
And so, we have Good Nintentions, a softball project to serve as a Game Boy World palette cleanser. My goal has always been to produce two retrospective videos per week, but in all honestly the task of creating that much volume for Game Boy games — of finding so much to say about them — is exhausting.
Instead, I hope to continue producing one Game Boy World video per week, and one supplemental feature such as Good Nintentions. More advanced platforms like the NES are a lot easier to dissect, and to play for long stretches. Plus, the NES library is already better-documented, so researching developers and publishers won’t be nearly so time-consuming. The result will be a happier, saner me.
Of course, this is hardly the world’s first project attempting to chronicle the NES library, but Good Nintentions is in no way meant to supplant or compete with the likes of Chrontendo or Questicle. Think of it more as a complement — an alternate take on a narrower selection of titles, produced strictly from an American perspective, and with as much emphasis on history and context for the games as the game content itself. I’ll be exploring NES releases primarily (with only occasional side excursions into Japanese and unlicensed games), and I’ll be working in the order in which the games were released in the U.S. So in that sense, it’s a chance to view the same platform in a different way; ideally, Good Nintentions should serve as a companion piece to other NES history projects.
Focusing on the NES library exclusively comes with its own challenges. Unlike in Japan, Nintendo of America didn’t keep accurate records of its software launches during older console eras. The company’s official NES release list for the U.S. only gets as specific as months, rather than nailing things down to the exact day as is done for Japanese games. Those aren’t always particularly accurate, either.
For instance, Nintendo gives a December 1990 date for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II, but I definitely bought the game, along with Maniac Mansion, in a Black Friday sale the day after Thanksgiving 1990 (Nov. 23). And Mega Man 4 is listed as January 1992, but I absolutely received it as a gift on Christmas Day 1991.
There’s not even a firm consensus for the console’s launch date, or which games were actually available at its American debut. Nintendo cites October 1985 as the launch date of Super Mario Bros., but historian and preservationist Frank Cifaldi has determined that while the game was probably released in 1985, it likely wasn’t available at the console’s launch… which was limited to the New York test market anyway.
So, there’s a bit of fudging involved here. Because of the imprecise record-keeping of the NES era and the gradual rollout most games saw in the era before a proper games industry, I’m relying on Nintendo’s dates. They’re not perfect, but they’re better than nothing. When multiple games arrived within the same month, I’ve subdivided those titles according to their original Japanese release dates. That means the very first NES game on this list is Baseball, which debuted in Japan in 1983.
It wasn’t the first Famicom game, but the three Famicom launch titles from July 1983 (Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., and Popeye) didn’t appear in America until the wide release of the console in 1986. So, for the purposes of this list, those come after Baseball and even games that debuted in Japan during 1985, such as Mach Rider and Super Mario Bros.
Of course, there are some areas where Nintendo’s figures are completely useless. Tengen’s four licensed releases, which included Gauntlet and RBI Baseball, were entirely expunged from Nintendo’s records when the publisher went rogue… meaning the only dates we have for those games are approximate years. In other words, this series is anything but scientific. So let’s begin, unscientifically, at the arbitrary beginning, with Baseball.