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NES Hidden Gems


With the release of the Nintendo NES Classic Edition flashback system, Source Gaming is here to provide a small list of seven obscure Nintendo Entertainment System titles that any in all Nintendo and classic gaming fans should make some time to check out.

For convenience, the common asking prices for each original cart on online shopping sites have also been provided as well as basic rarity information.* If you know of any NES titles that you think others would enjoy please make them known within the comments section as they could show up in future articles.**

*These prices are primarily based on listings from eBay & Price and are not necessarily the definitive market going rates.

**Please do not post links to any illegal sites within the comment section.

Conquest of the Crystal Palace – Asmik Corp. (1990)

Uncommon, ~$25-30

Years ago the Crystal Palace was taken over by the evil Zaras with only the Palace’s guardian dog, Zap, and the infant Prince Farron escaping. Now of age, Zap informs Farron that the time has come to rescue his kingdom and retake his throne.

In a unique twist, upon starting this action platformer, players are given the choice of one of three crystals that can increase Farron’s abilities, either: max health, fireballs, or increased jump height. Beyond Farron’s sword, players also have the option of selecting Zap to aid them in fighting enemies. Zap has his own health bar and can sometimes steal health times, but he is a large help when dealing with enemies at a distance. Throughout the game’s five lengthy stages, players can encounter a woman named Kim who runs the game’s item shop. In exchange for coins, players can obtain extra lives, sub-weapons such as fireballs and shurikens, and power-ups for both Farron & Zap; in particular a tag-team super attack. Additionally. Kim can also provide hints as to what to expect next within each stage; humorously dressing up as a newscaster to do so.  Should players spend enough money, she may also fall in love with you and offer discounts.

Both the game’s music and environments are heavily based on Asian Mythologies while cute anime sprites add needed levity and humor. Farron himself controls well, but it is noteworthy to point out that attacking in mid-air halts his jumps, leading to some slightly awkward platforming moments. A challenging but quirky game, Conquest of the Crystal Palace is a solidly overlooked title.

Crystalis – SNK (1990)

Common, ~$20, GBC Port,

An sci-fi fantasy action adventure game heavily styled after the original Legend of Zelda, Crystalis places characters in order of a nameless protagonist who awakens from cryo-stasis 100 years after a nuclear war destroyed the world. Players are quickly given the task of defeating the evil Emperor Draygon, learning that he plans to take over an ancient tower containing weapons originally intended to prevent further destruction. To defeat him, players must obtain the legendary sword Crystalis, created by combining the powers of the four elemental swords.

Like the Zelda series, players can attack with a sword and equip items and magic to a second attack slot but the similarities stop there. As per the story, much of the game revolves around the four elemental swords: Wind, Fire, Water, and Earth. Each of the swords has their own strengths and uses in both progression and combat. Each sword can be charged up to three times to create various projectile attacks by equipping key items. The strongest of these attacks can create large projectiles to damage most everything on screen, but they require magic points to use.  Many enemies and bosses found throughout the game have a weakness or resistance to a specific sword so using them effectively is key for survival.  Constantly having to switch swords out similar to weapons in Mega Man can grow tiresome, but it is nonetheless endearing.

Additionally, Crystalis uses a level up system similar to RPGs, with each level raising health, attack, and magic points. While simple on the surface, leveling up is required as certain bosses can only be damaged upon reaching a certain point; unfortunately resulting in instances where grinding for experience is unavoidable.

Progression within the overworld is somewhat linear, but a heavy focus on narrative, quality graphics, and plenty of NPCs to chat with across eleven towns help keep the game feel alive. There are several dozen pieces of equipment that can be obtained as well as eight magic spells that can be learned. Dungeons in Crystalis are more exploration based than puzzle based, while each of the game’s bosses requires proper timing and quick reflexes than exploiting a specific weakness.

A port of this game was made to the Gameboy Color but due to its small screen size, story & music changes is often considered to be a mediocre port. Slightly more action than adventure based, Crystalis is a surprisingly overlooked title within the NES library that deserves more attention.

Destiny of the Emperor – Capcom (1990)

Uncommon, ~$15-20,

One of the few RPGs to reach international markets without Nintendo as the publisher, Destiny of the Emperor focuses on battle strategies more so than other titles at the time. In this game, players take on the role of Liu Bei and his comrades as they form a militia to defend their village from Yellow Turban Rebels, eventually leading them on a journey to reunite China. Destiny of the Emperor is technically a licensed game as it is based on the manga: Tenchi wo Kurau/天地を喰らう, which itself is loosely based on the novel: Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The story is fairly basic with light nods to the novel, but it does allow for branching pathways at certain intervals, an uncommon feature for the time.

Battles are the main attraction of this game. Players start off with only Liu Bei and two friends, but can have a total of five active in battle, and have two sitting as either reserves or acting as a tactician. The tactician does not participate in battle, instead they provide the active characters with access to their learned special offensive/defensive/healing abilities. While there are generic RPG enemies to fight for experience and supplies, the majority of enemies players will face can be one of 150 unique enemy generals. After defeating a general’s army (their health stat), the general may offer to join your ranks or will offer their services in exchange for a bribe. Players can only have 70 generals in total per save file so late into the game weaker allies will have to be removed from the party. They, however, can be re-recruited upon defeating them in a random encounter again.

On top of 6 vs 6 battle being possible, the game enjoys putting pressure on players with arguably overpowered enemies. Therefore, unlike many early RPGs, grinding for experience is not a major road to success compared to strategizing. There is an “All-Out” option each battle that puts a CPU in control of your characters, but this is mostly for dealing with lowered leveled enemies.

The overworld of China is fairly linear in terms of exploration, with several sections being straight roads to the next town and dungeons being small. While there is slight backtracking, character icons move fast and warping items can be obtained to cut back on these frustrations. Each step taken while in the overworld, however, uses up a “food” stat for your army/health bar. If your food meter runs out, for each step taken Liu Bei & allies take damage similar to being poisoned in other titles. Despite graphically taking after early 8-Bit RPGs, Destiny of the Emperor stands out from the competition with its stronger take on customization & strategy.

The Guardian Legend – Broderbund (1989)

Common, ~$15

Released originally in early 1988 as a spin-off to a forgotten MSX game, Compile’s The Guardian Legend places players in control of “The Guardian,” a female android tasked by humanity to destroy Planet Naju before it crashes into the Earth. To complete her mission, she must find ten switches to activate the planet’s self-destruct sequence.

The game is divided into two mostly separate modes as you adventure across Naju. Known as the Labyrinth, the over-world is explored from a top-down perspective similar to The Legend of Zelda. Here in her humanoid form, the Guardian must seek out Corridors (dungeons) and defeat the boss within. A grid styled map screen is available as to give hints as to where to head next, but an exploration of each area is rewarded with power-ups for health, attack power, and ammunition. There are 12 upgradeable sub-weapons in total that can be obtained such as energy blades, grenades, and screen-clearing bomb. An RPG-style experience meter is displayed on the bottom of the screen. Reaching a certain numbered point causes The Guardian to level up, gaining a larger health bar and completely refilling her health and ammo. Players do not lose any experience they obtained upon getting a game over.

Corridors act as the other gameplay type, that of vertical scrolling shooters. Here The Guardian turns into a spaceship and must blast her way to the end of the stage and its boss. All sub-weapons and power-ups obtained in the Labyrinth are also available for use in these sections. Including the intro and final stage, there are 12 Corridors to complete in order to finish the game; however, there are 10 optional Corridors available to complete for additional items. Corridors are both fast and difficult, with bosses that require careful maneuvering. Like most shooters, these sections require heavy amounts of skill. Less experienced gamers will, however, find completing them too often be a matter of persistence and luck given the game’s health bar and experience system allowing for mistakes. These stages are the heart of the game and feature some of the best action on the NES.

As a result of the game’s highly forgiving nature, Gamers who may not normally enjoy shoot-em-ups will find a great title to help ease themselves in. Those more experienced with the genre and may want a more refined experience also have the option of entering “TGL” on the password screen to play all 22 Corridors without intermission.  The Guardian Legend is a multi-genre game done right and due to both its price point and quality stands as a prime example of a hidden gem.

The Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino & Hoppy – Taito (1991)

Common, ~$17

Based on the classic Hanna Barbara cartoon, it’s up to Fred Flintstone to repair The Great Gazoo’s Time Machine to travel to the future and rescue their family pets from the evil Dr. Butler.

In this action platformer, Fred uses his trusty club to fight off dinosaurs, caveman, robots and the like. What’s notable is Fred’s ability to climb up and down ledges, not unlike Prince of Persia, which both allows for more creative level design and the chance to save oneself during tense platforming segments. Sub-weapons such as stone axes, slingshots, and egg bombs can be obtained and used at the cost of collectible coins. Upon completing certain stages, Fred can also gain access to The Great Gazoo’s magic giving him the ability to fly, perform a high jump, and dive while underwater.

There are eight stages in total spread out across a world map as well as surprisingly addicting Basketball minigame segments to help break up the action. The game does suffer from an unusually long delay after being hit which can lead to some cheap deaths. Fred’s climbing ability also grows tiresome late into the game, with it either feeling overused or placed over too many blind jumps. Despite some quirks, Taito did a great job capturing the spirit of the original cartoon with lots of easter eggs, cameos, and quality sprite work. The first of Taito’s Hanna Barbara platforming trilogy, The Flintstones: The Rescue of Dino & Hoppy stands as another great licensed NES title alongside Ducktales, Bucky O’Hare, and Batman.

Mighty Final Fight – Capcom (1993)

Rare, ~$185 NES/~$15 Famicom, GBA Port, Wii U/3DS Virtual Console,

A de-make of the classic 1989 beat-em-up, Mighty Final Fight retells the story of  Metro City Mayor Mike Haggar’s daughter has been kidnapped by the greedy Mad Gear Gang and it’s up to her boyfriend Cody, his best friend Guy, and her father to rescue her. Compared to the original, the plot is more comedic and has more of a narrative to reflect this.

With the exception of the port to the SEGA CD, home ports of this popular arcade title have been severely lacking. To the NES’s credit, unlike the SNES port, Mighty Final Fight retains all 3 playable characters and expands upon their unique playstyles; although there is still no two-player mode available. The game now features and experience point system, raising each character’s health bar at each level, with level four unlocking a new attack (Ex. Haggar’s Hoodlum Launcher). Depending on which character you are playing as and how you finish off an enemy affects how much experience is gained.  Upon a Game Over, you lose all experience gained and drop down to the level at which you started the stage with. Characters still retain their life draining “get off me” attack from the original when both attack & jump buttons are pressed. Weapons make a return but are now character exclusive such as shurikens for Guy.

Thanks in part to the limits of the NES, the amount of enemies displayed on the screen at a time has been lowered helping make this game easier and feel more combo focused than the original. Bonus Stages now involve destroying small waves of oncoming barrels  Donkey Kong-style and can provide health, lives, and continues. Mighty Final Fight stands on its own merits as a beat-em-up thanks to its wackiness, new stages, and music. Those who may feel overwhelmed by the original or have worn themselves out playing Double Dragon or River City Random will find a satisfying challenge here.

This game has been made available on the Wii U/3DS Virtual Console and can be found alongside other NES Hidden Gems: Bionic Commando & Strider, as a part of the Capcom Classics Mini-Mix for the Gameboy Advance.

Power Blade – Taito (1991)

Uncommon, NA/EU Only, ~$40

In the year 2191, aliens take over the Master Computer that controls most of the world’s important technological functions. It’s up to Agent NOVA & his boomerang: Power Blade to stop them and restore order in this side-scrolling action game.

Players can select from any one of six stages at the start of the game, completing them all will allow access to the final stage. The goal of each stage is to see out an allied NPC so as to gain entrance to the boss room. While the stages can be completed in any order, each stage is numbered and grows progressively larger and complex to explore. NOVA himself can jump, duck, and throw his boomerang in any of eight directions. NOVA starts off somewhat limited in what he can do, as such, power-ups are a necessary for progression; increasing the power, speed, & range of his boomerang, energy tanks, screen-clearing bombs, and power suits that max his attack strength and block three hits.

Much of the game’s difficulty is tied to learning where to go in each semi-linear stage and surviving long enough to power up. Bosses themselves are fairly simplistic and pattern based in nature but can be difficult to handle if NOVA is not properly equipped. Ultimately Power Blade comes off a tad easier than most actions games on the NES but is still a satisfying game that fans of Mega Man and the like will enjoy. An expert difficulty is available, decreasing the time limit  for each stage and increasing the damage dealt by enemies.

This game was originally titled Power Blazer in Japan. After poor reception and Taito’s localization team deeming it to be a dud, however, the original game was reworked significantly. Not surprisingly, Taito chose to give Power Blade a sequel instead and removed references to Power Blazer for its Japanese release.

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  1. inb4 7 grand dad comments

    TaddtheMushroom on November 12 |
    • That flintstones games is fantastic tho. such a shame that now everyone knows it as a dumb meme.

      Voyager on November 13 |
  2. Love the article! There are so many underloved games on the NES. We actually did our own hidden gems list on the site a bit ago, you should check it out.

    TheRetroCorner on December 9 |