Nintendo’s iconic black box titles…..so pixelated, so simple, so black. These were the games that drew me in when I first became aware of Nintendo in 1986 and still made up a large percentage of the games available for the system throughout much of 1987. Since these were Nintendo’s games (not 3rd party), they were the ones highlighted on the back of their console box and on the poster that came with the system. For a period of time, these titles were the only games that I knew existed for Nintendo until I saw someone bring a copy of Ghosts n Goblins to school. The black box titles carry a special place in my childhood memory as they were the games I obsessed over during the period of time that I yearned for a Nintendo and when I actually owned one. I would stare at the game boxes at the local Wal-Mart and imagine what the game would play like simply based on the description and the few screen shots provided on the back. I loved how the cover art attempted to actually reflect the look of the game inside instead of embellishing through overly elaborate art. This was only really true to the black box games as 3rd party developers apparently didn’t fall in line with Nintendo’s philosophy of accurate portrayals of their games via box cover art (case in point, Mega Man).
There were 30 black box games released for the Nintendo between 1985-1987. While it is true that all NES launch titles were black box, not all black box games were launch titles. There were 18 games available for the NES upon its North American launch in October of 1985. The remaining 12 were released in 1986 and early 1987 and all black box titles were given a category of either Action, Arcade, Educational, Light Gun, Programmable, Robot or Sports. The Adventure series would come after with the silver games of Kid Icarus and Metroid. Of these 30 total black box games, I currently own 25 of them. Like most NES collectors, my goal is to own all of the black box titles and ideally, all 30 of them complete in box. This might have been slightly easier had I kept all of my original games from when I was a kid. I owned several of the black box titles and then sold them complete in box years later when I grew tired of them. Tennis was the second game for the Nintendo that I owned after the pack-in title, Super Mario Bros. Tennis may seem like an odd choice for a second game for my collection but you have to understand I have an older sister who was a high school & college tennis player and she highly suggested I ask for Tennis for my birthday. Being the obedient little brother I was, I acquiesced and that was the game I got for my birthday. Tennis is pretty fun for a black box title and my second favorite black box “Sports Series” game next to Pro Wrestling. Pro Wrestling was another black box title I owned as a kid and I clearly enjoyed this game more than Tennis as I kept my copy throughout my childhood and beyond and the complete in box copy in my collection today is the same as the one I had in 1988. Lots of great memories playing this game against my friends. I liked using King Slender but Starman was another favorite. Another black box title I owned was Ice Climber. I like Ice Climber but I get why some don’t appreciate its weird jumping controls. I think I sold my complete copy of Ice Climber along with Tennis at a garage sale my parents had when I was in high school. I likely sold it so I could either by music tapes (weird that I feel like I have to clarify that) or else a newer NES game. I believe those were the only black box games I owned as a kid as I didn’t have the Deluxe set so no light gun with Duck Hunt and no R.O.B. with Gyromite.
The black box games that I played the most outside of the 4 that I owned were games that just about everyone else besides me had. Excitebike, Duck Hunt, Kung Fu (a game I managed to beat while borrowing it from a friend) & Baseball. I didn’t have a lot of interest in the Arcade Classic series because these games, specifically Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr, had been arcade staples for 5 years at that point. I was looking for something new and fresh, not playing games that I could find in nearly every arcade in town. As for Mario Bros, I had played this game with my friends almost daily during the summer as it was the primary arcade machine at the nearest grocery store around this period of time (’86-’88). I loved Mario Bros but because I had played the arcade version so often, the home port just couldn’t hold a candle to it in my eyes. Of course, once NES games started to become dirt cheap in the late 90’s at second hand stores such as Funcoland, Mario Bros was one of the first I picked up for a dollar or two to spark my nostalgia for my pre-teen years.
There were several Sports titles such as Volleyball, Soccer & Golf that I had very little interaction with as a kid as well as Action titles such as Clu Clu Land, Pinball & Urban Champion. I knew many kids that had light guns so Duck Hunt, Wild Gunman and Hogan’s Alley were all very familiar to me but Gumshoe was not. To this day, Gumshoe is my least favorite black box title. If I remove my rose colored glasses for a minute, I objectively admit that many of the black box games don’t hold up as well when comparing to some of the later NES games. I do think that the black box games offered consumers/gamers of the era exactly what they needed and were missing after the video game crash of 1983. Advanced gaming, enhanced graphics and sound and a variety of genres to appease kids of all ages and interests. These are the games that shaped Nintendo’s future and as a result, my generation will always remember them fondly
Currently in my collection:
- Clu Clu Land – game only C+
- Ice Climber – game only B-
- Kung Fu – game only A-
- Pinball – game only C
- Balloon Fight – game only B
- Super Mario Bros – game, manual, box A+
- Urban Champion – game, manual C-
- Donkey Kong 3 – game, manual B-
- Mario Bros – game only B+
- Popeye – game only B+
Light Gun Series:
- Duck Hunt – game only A
- Gumshoe – game only F
- Hogan’s Alley – game only B
- Wild Gunman – game only B+
- Excitebike – game only B
- Mach Rider – game only C+
- Gyromite – game only (no rating as I never attempted to play this game without a R.O.B. by using both controllers)
- 10 Yard Fight – game only F
- Baseball – game only D
- Golf – game only B-
- Pro Wrestling – game, manual, box A
- Slalom – game only C
- Soccer – game only C-
- Tennis – game only B+
- Volleyball – game only D+
Wish List: The remaining black box titles I do not own.
- Donkey Kong – For some reason this game routinely sells for $50 loose….I don’t get it.
- Donkey Kong Jr. – I’ve been holding out for a reasonably priced complete copy.
- Donkey Kong Jr. Math – The lone title in the Educational Series….no wonder its so rare today.
- Stack Up – Another rare and expensive game as this was the other Robot Series game that wasn’t a pack-in title.
- Wrecking Crew – Same comment as my DKJ one.