Ranking the top 101 Nintendo games: No. 97, NES Remix, and No. 96, Rusty's Real Deal Baseball

Nintendo makes something new out of something old, and introduces us to the saddest dad in gaming.

I’m ranking the top-101 Nintendo developed/published games of all-time, and you can read about the thought process behind game eligibility and list construction here. You can keep up with the rankings so far through this link.

The Nintendo Entertainment System was basically a miracle, in that it helped video games recover from the crisis they were in, serving as the bridge between their time as a failing fad and as an entertainment mainstay. The system is loaded with classic games, many of which are fun to return to, and others which are… less fun. Some of those fun games you’ll see on this list. Others made it in their remastered forms, as those showed that some modern tweaks could reinvigorate a concept that time had diminished. And others still, while exciting in a throwback sense or still pretty good, won’t make it because hoo boy Nintendo has made lots of lots of video games and their creative talents did not peak in 1988.

Enter NES Remix, a two-game series of Nintendo’s from the 2013-2014 Wii U and 3DS era, that also received a physical release as a singular entity. As the title implies, these games feature remixes of NES titles, and the concept works far more than you might expect it to.

The initial NES Remix focused heavily on early-life NES releases, the kinds of games that were themselves often ports from Nintendo’s era of arcade cabinets and that style of game development. It includes 16 titles, among them Super Mario Bros., Donkey Kong and its sequels, Excitebike, and The Legend of Zelda. It also has games that have received far less in the way of iterating and re-releases over the years, like Clu Clu Land, Balloon Fight, Ice Climber, Wrecking Crew, and the various sports titles that tended to be named after the sport in question, i.e. Baseball, Golf, and Tennis. NES Remix 2 focused more on the post-arcade era of the NES, as well as some extremely late-life classics: Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3, Kirby’s Adventure, Adventure of Link, Dr. Mario, Wario’s Woods, Punch-Out!! (featuring Mr. Dream), Kid Icarus, Metroid, and so on.

There are two different phases of each NES Remix game. The first has you playing these original titles, but in small bites. They’re effectively meant to teach you how to play the game, or particular concepts from it. And they do that effectively, too: back in the NES era, you read the manual to know how to do anything, because the game wasn’t about to tell you. In the present, games present sometimes lengthy tutorials to teach you the ropes. So, these are, in a way, tutorials that build up in difficulty: in Super Mario Bros 2, “Defeat an enemy with a vegetable!” is where you start, but you end a dozen or so stages later by besting the final boss in the game.

You are also ranked for your play, based on the amount of time it took you to complete — you unlock additional remixes and more games to play and challenge by being awarded stars, and there are one-to-three stars per stage depending on your performance, with rainbow colorization around the three stars serving as the ultimate rank for a given stage. A single stage in Remix might have anywhere from three to 10 or so challenges within it. Maybe an early Super Mario Bros. stage has you collecting a Fire Flower, then using it to defeat a few enemies in a limited time. But a later SMB stage wants you to defeat every single Bowser in the game in a row using the Fire Flower. These get progressively more difficult to pull off without taking damage, which would cause you to lose your power-up and fail the challenge, as Bowser starts throwing hammers and fireballs begin to appear in later stages, just like in Super Mario Bros. Fail too many times, and you’ll end up with just one star, and the need to play again to earn the other two.

All this education (or re-education, depending on your NES experience) is well and good, but the real start of the NES Remixes comes from the actual remixing. These are challenges that change the game somehow, whether it’s by making you perform challenging jumps after only seeing the platforms briefly before the lights go out, or making you play a Mario stage using Kirby and his powers to combat Goombas or break blocks, or creating a stage that doesn’t exist in Metroid to force you to solve a difficult challenge without the power suit on.

This remixing, and the more tutorial/challenge stages before them, really works to capture some of the best parts of many NES titles, many of which you might not enjoy playing front-to-back in the present day to the same degree you might have in the mid-80s. These remixes invent New Content that subverts expectations and gives you new reasons to love old favorites. It’s a bit like like WarioWare's microgames — especially in the remixes where multiple games with wildly varying objectives and styles are played back-to-back — only less micro, but challenge included.

NES games, again, as something of a bridge between a time when video games were in danger and when they became something that wasn't going away, really work well broken down or distilled in this way. I don't think these two NES Remix titles get enough credit for their understanding of the source material and ways it can be valued today through something besides the lens of nostalgia, which is often the way we’re conditioned to consume and understand the past. There's a lot of fun here, and new memories to be made, with careful curation and reinvention from Nintendo’s past as a sturdy base for it all.

Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball, at its heart, is a Nintendo 3DS collection of baseball-themed mini-games. How a 2014 release like that would ever make a ranking of the top Nintendo games ever might seem like a mystery, but that’s only the case if you’ve never played it before. And that’s because not only are the baseball mini-games in Rusty’s Real Deal Baseball fantastic, creative, and replayable, but on top of that strong foundation lies a house with a family in distress within.

You see, Rusty is a dog, and a sad dad. He neglects his personal hygiene and has no idea how to raise his many puppies, because this dog with a comb over has thrown all of his energy into making sure his sporting goods store is a success. Folks, it is not a success: Rusty is a failure as a businessman and provider, and when his wife vanishes seemingly without a word, leaving Rusty and the kids behind, his first instinct is to believe that it’s because she’s far too good for a sad sack like him, who is undeserving of love or success because of how inadequate he is in every way.

Image credit: Rare Gamer

Rusty has one last plan in mind, though, in order to save his store and his marriage. And that’s to start to sell popular baseball video games for the Nontendo 4DS. In Rusty’s universe, Nintendo doesn’t make video games, they provide plumbing services. Oh, and also the 4DS is four instead of three because you jump inside of the system and play within the game itself. Take that, virtual reality: the 4DS is reality.

What makes this all work is that Nintendo (Nontendo?) made these seemingly disparate genres of “baseball mini-game” and “depressing visual novel starring Willy Lohman, but he’s a dog” work together by having them weave into each other at every turn. You progress the story by playing through baseball mini-games and excelling at them, in turn winning yourself food and tickets for discounts on other Nontendo 4DS products — more on that later — as well as seemingly random items like nose hair trimmers or a coupon for a free session at a remedial cooking class.

“Seemingly random” because Rusty needs those things, and needs them bad. Give him the trimmers, and he can finally remove the whisker-length hairs growing out of his nose. Get him to that cooking class, and he can learn how to feed his family and also avoid having his kids accidentally burn down the house while trying to feed themselves in their mother’s absence. Rusty will also be so thrilled with your gift that he’ll give you a discount on the next game you purchase from him. And since you purchase these games with real money, that matters.

Yes, the last bit of game contained within here is one of haggling. You have to actually negotiate with Rusty the Salesdog in order to knock down the prices of the games, which start at $4 a piece. You don’t need every game in order to complete the story, and you get to try demos of the games before you commit to purchasing or not purchasing, so don’t feel like this is all a slow way for Nintendo to take your cash. And also, if you’re paying $4, you’re doing it wrong.

Those donuts? Rusty loves them, and by giving him one during negotiations you’ve buttered him up and made him feel like he can slash some money off of the price of the game. Throw a manufacturer’s discount ticket at him, and he has to honor it — up to three of them. Give him nose hair trimmers so he feels like a man/dog his wife would be proud to gaze upon again? Buddy, your next purchase is going to see a discount.

You can snag the games for as low as $1.50 each if you play your sugary foods and coupons right, and there are 10 of them in total, so all in all, this still isn’t an expensive game so long as you do what you’re supposed to, and don’t rush to purchase another game before you’ve mastered the ones you already have. And you will want to master them, because they’re excellent.

Each game has 10 different challenges within it, with five stages of difficulty for each one. On top of that, there are two different high-score challenge modes that award you medals for your performance, so even if you’ve mastered the individual challenges, you can see how long you can manage to perform a given task without failing through those.

In “Bat & Switch,” it’s as simple as trying to hit fastballs and then curveballs, but then you need to start hitting baseballs in specific directions at specific times in order to combat attacking UFOs, or make sure you hit the bombs that are being thrown at you instead of baseballs or else you explode and fail. There are mystery balls, “brutal” fastball speeds, and more. In “Cage Match,” you bat in a cage, trying to hit progressively more difficult and varied pitching while also directing the balls in certain places so as to score more points, and faster, achieving a higher ranking. “The Aim Game” sees your ability to throw for distance and accuracy challenged, and I mean it when I say “challenged.” There’s “Quick Catch” and “Feel The Glove” for fielding-based mini-games, a mode where you are the umpire calling balls and strikes, “Volley Bats” where you hit a baseball back-and-forth between two players — both of them you — to attempt progressively more difficult and longer volleys, and a mode where you can build your own bat to use in the other modes.

The system takes full advantage of the 3DS, too, using its buttons, its touch sensors, the 3D bits for balls coming at you as a fielder, the console’s accelerometers: all of it. The game released in 2014, and I still go back to it a few times per year today, because the challenge and variety exist to allow me to even want to do that after the story’s completion. Rusty’s in a better place now — Jesus, he’s not dead, his store and marriage are both saved thanks to me — but that hasn’t stopped me from coming back to check in like he asked. Plus, who is going to stop the UFOs but a guy with a baseball bat if I don’t?

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