New York 1985

Four from Nintendo before it was a sure thing.

Super Mario Bros., by R&D 4.

In the twenty years since its release, Super Mario Bros. has become more monument than game. Globs of praise have been heaped on it only to accrete over time into some kind of unassailable capsule. But if you can chip away the influentials, the innovatives, the various bests, you’ll find as I did that to this day it’s still barrels of fun.

Golf, by R&D 1.

Simple, elegant, and the blueprint for all future golf games. Where Mario was strange and terrific and impossible for the outsider to understand, Golf could be understood — and enjoyed — by anyone who happened to walk past the television.

Pinball, by HAL.

As recovering alcoholic Crash Bandicoot could probably tell you, it takes more than a successful game to become a successful mascot. It helps if your debut is miles ahead of every other game on the system, but what really clinches it is the guest appearances. Like a commercially savvy rap star, Mario went on to score cameos in a number of worthwhile launch games, including Golf, Tennis, and Pinball. His presence is the only thing noteworthy about Pinball, an otherwise by-the-numbers adaptation of a machine video games were soon to displace.

Mach Rider, by R&D 1.

With an initial batch of games including Pinball, Tennis, and Golf, the NES was in danger of becoming a country club. Enter Mach Rider: a breakneck motorcycle ride through a ravaged, post-apocalyptic landscape. Your task? To destroy the invaders that have overrun Earth’s highways. The alleged invaders do not fight back, look remarkably like your own character, and show no sign of evil-doing. You, on the other hand, gun them down, run them off the road, and receive rewards for doing so. This would earn the game my highest recommendation, were it not for the fact that staying on the road for any length of time is nearly impossible. Thanks to the numerous obstacles littered across the highway — oil drums, sheets of ice, and massive rocks that appear to grow up from the asphalt itself — you’ll be spending a lot of time waiting for the game to reassemble your bike after each hair-trigger explosion. With practice you can reduce the frequency of these accidents, but because of the Pole Position-style turns that whip you around without a view of the oncoming road, you can never completely avoid them. Nor should you completely avoid Mach Rider, as painful as it can be to play. Because the main thing that makes the game stand out from its peers, more than the premise, is the music — catchy and foreboding at the same time, the game’s three tunes create an atmosphere that’s totally different from anything else on the system at the time, and it’s a shame the game doesn’t take advantage it.