NES Black Box Game Reviews
As I implied in part 1 of this series, “black box” games for the Nintendo Entertainment System are in many ways a cornerstone of our video game auctions. These early first-party titles for the iconic console resonate with gamers as well as collectors, and bidding is usually strong for the historically important titles, of which there are 30.
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7. Balloon Fight
A game that feels more like an homage than a rip-off, Balloon Fight plays a lot like the coin-op classic Joust (which was ported to the NES) but replaces the ostrich-mounted knight’s player’s control with balloonists who fly by flapping their arms. You tap the button to gain altitude, and your character floats across the non-scrolling playfield on two balloons. The objective is to fly around bumping into enemies from above (while avoiding being bumped into from below), thereby popping their balloon(s) and sending them parachuting downward. Flying too close to the water puts players in danger of getting eaten by a fish, which is similar to The Troll of the Lava Pits in Joust. If it takes too long to defeat all the enemies, a lightning storm will occur. Hitting the enemy again on his way down makes him drop into the water below.
Going it alone in this game to see how many screens you can finish is fun, but battling a second gamer while doing the same is even more enjoyable. Like its coin-op counterpart (Nintendo, 1984), Balloon Fight contains a special side-scrolling mode where players float along popping balloons while avoiding lightning, making a great (if largely unoriginal) game even better. An excellent early release for the console.
Balloon Fight – Wata 8.0 CIB [Hangtab, 2 Code, Mid-Production], NES Nintendo 1986 USA
8. Donkey Kong
Like the ColecoVision and Atari 7800 versions, Donkey Kong for the NES is missing one of the screens found in Nintendo’s 1981 coin-op classic (the Conveyor Belt level), as well as the animated intermissions. However, the remaining three screens are nicely emulated, despite the altered placement of certain items, slower elevators, and various other nitpicks. In addition, the NES port has much better sound effects (including Mario’s squeaky shoes) than the 7800 game.
As most retro gamers know, the game has you, as Mario (originally Jumpman), walking along the girders of a building (hence people calling it the Girders stage), climbing the ladders in order to it to the top of the screen where Pauline is held captive. Donkey Kong rolls barrels down at you as you walk and climb. To avoid the barrels, you can jump over or hit them with one of the two hammers that are located within the structure. Then comes the Elevator stage, where you ride elevators as well as climb ladders, and walk across girders to reach the top. Watch out for the bouncing I-beams, which are invulnerable. Finally, the Rivets stage is comprised of six horizontal girders that are connected by ladders, but instead of striving to reach the top, you must pluck eight rivets out of the girders. The barrels are absent, but fireballs appear from nowhere; once again there are two hammers you can use to ward off the enemies. At various points in Donkey Kong, you can pick up Pauline’s dropped umbrella, hat, and purse for extra points. Your objective is to rescue Pauline, but, in classic arcade style, the levels keep repeating.
Donkey Kong – Wata 6.5 CIB [Gloss Sticker, First Production], NES Nintendo 1986 USA
9. Donkey Kong Jr.
Unlike Donkey Kong for the NES, Donkey Kong Jr. retains all four looping screens from its respective coin-op classic, Nintendo’s Donkey Kong Junior (1982) in this case. Players guide the titular boy ape as he attempts to rescue his father from Mario’s cage at the top of each screen. This requires climbing up and sliding down vines, pushing keys up chains (it’s really cool that DKJR climbs faster when grabbing two chains or vines), dropping fruit on (or avoiding altogether) nitpicker birds and snapjaws, and jumping on platforms and over gaps. As with Donkey Kong, the animated intermissions found in the coin-op version are absent. However, the graphics and sounds are exceptionally arcade-like, and the play mechanics, controls, and strategies are so strikingly faithful that only a longtime player would notice the difference.
Gamers who look to the NES for such then-cutting-edge games as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid may ignore titles like Donkey Kong Jr., but they do so at their loss. This is a super fun game and one of the more accurate coin-op ports for the console.
Donkey Kong Jr. – Wata 7.5 CIB [No Rev-A, 3-Screw, Last Production], NES Nintendo 1986 USA
10. Donkey Kong 3
A stellar port of Nintendo’s highly underrated arcade game (1983), Donkey Kong 3 strays from the climbing/non-scrolling platformer genre popularized by Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Junior, opting instead for a shooter format somewhat similar to Gorf, Centipede, and Galaga. You control a gardener named Stanley the Bugman, who first appeared in Greenhouse, a Nintendo Game & Watch title from 1982, as he works to keep Beespys (smaller bees), Buzzbees (fatter bees), snakes (named Creepy), butterflies, and other pests away from his flowers, which are planted in a row at the bottom of the screen. Armed with a can of insecticide, Stanley must run and jump along some platforms (which are positioned just above the flowers), spraying away at the swarming, descending creatures.
In addition to keeping his flowers safe, Stanley must also worry about Donkey Kong, who climbs down from vines that are suspended from the top of the playfield. Spraying the coconut-throwing ape forces him up the vines. If Stanley lets him reach the bottom of the vines, Donkey Kong jumps down and kills Stanley. If Stanley can manage to exterminate all of the flying pests, or if Donkey Kong is forced all the way to the top, Stanley will move on to the next round. There are three different repeating screens. If Stanley protects all of his flowers, he gets bonus points. Fast, fun, and frantic, DK3 is a bug-shooting blast.
Donkey Kong 3 – Wata 8.0 B+ Sealed [Hangtab, 2 Code, Mid-Production], NES Nintendo 1986 USA
11. Donkey Kong Jr. Math
An offshoot of Donkey Kong Junior (arcade, 1982), Donkey Kong Jr. Math uses the basic climbing elements of DKJ to drill gamers ages eight and up on addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Calculate A and Calculate B are two-player games, with each contestant guiding a junior Kong (one brown, one pink) up and down vines and on top of small islands in order to form equations. The objective is to reach the number depicted on a sign that Papa (Donkey Kong) is holding at the top of the screen. Gamers can play solo, but there’s no real way to lose unless there’s an opponent. A one-player game, +-x÷ Exercise has players climbing up chains to select the correct numbers to solve math problems, with a Nitpicker Bird showing the position of the number to be filled. Though good for exercising mental math muscles, this cartridge is light on action as there are no enemies to avoid. Educational games often get overlooked by gamers and collectors, and this is one of the weaker black box titles in terms of sheer gameplay, but there’s no doubting the iconic nature of the Donkey Kong IP.
Donkey Kong Jr. Math – Wata 7.0 CIB [Gloss Sticker, First Production], NES Nintendo 1986 USA
One of the more inventive light gun shooters for the NES, Gumshoe finds a trench-coat-clad former FBI agent named Mr. Stevenson moving automatically to the right, oblivious to the rocks, cars, bombs, alligators, skulls, diving airplanes, angry armadillos, hungry sharks, flying booze bottles, grinning birds, and other hindrances in his path. It is up to the player, using the Zapper gun, to shoot and destroy the enemies and obstacles, and players can even shoot Mr. Stevenson himself, which makes him jump over various obstructions. Guiding him into balloons will give players more shots. The objective is to collect five Black Panther diamonds in order to free Stevenson’s daughter, who has been kidnapped by mob boss King Dom. There are four colorful, nicely rendered levels of play: City, Sky, Sea, and Jungle. We tend to prefer more traditional light gun games like Duck Hunt, Hogan’s Alley, and Shooting Range here in the Heritage offices, but gamers should at least give Gumshoe a chance for its unusual play style.
Gumshoe – Wata 6.5 CIB [Hangtab, 3 Code, Last Production], NES Nintendo 1986 USA
Originally packaged alongside Duck Hunt with the NES Deluxe Set, Gyromite was designed for use with R.O.B., the Robotic Operating Buddy. You guide Professor Hector as he collects and defuses all the dynamite in rooms in 40 levels of play. To navigate the areas, Hector walks and climbs up and down ropes, but he tends to fall off ledges. Blue and red columns get in the way, but you can lower them by pressing A and B on the second controller, or by pressing start to send the command to R.O.B., who will slowly maneuver spinning gyros and drop them to activate controller two.
As Hector works his way around his lab, he will be pestered by little green Smick creatures, whose deadly bites prove fatal for professors. To distract the Smicks, you can feed them turnips that randomly appear. If the professor falls in a hole, the odds of a Smick capturing him increase significantly. Puzzle elements come into play as it’s easy to get trapped in a level before you get all the dynamite. In the second mode of play, you control R.O.B. to guide Hector, who is sleepwalking. Gyromite can be played without using R.O.B., which is actually preferable. As many gamers know, Nintendo’s robot is a cool collectible, but he’s hardly efficient or desirable when it comes to gameplay.
Gyromite – Wata 8.0 CIB [Gloss Sticker, Second Production], NES Nintendo 1985 USA
How to Get Parts 3 and 4 of the Collectors Guide to NES Black Box Games?
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