The last game for the Nintendo Entertainment System was made three years before the first Generation Z baby was born. But thanks to Chris Pratt, the natural choice to play Mario in a live action movie, and a series of delightful cameos in Super Smash Bros., the Nintendo classics are like ghosts trapped in this mortal plane.
While Gen Z knows Mario and Link, we figured they may not have actually played a lot of the old titles that launched the characters. So, in the spirit of Mystery Science Theater 3000, we sat a group of Gen Z gamers down, fired up some classic NES titles, and asked for their takes.
- Abe: 9 years old, deeply into manga and Pokemon
- Charlotte: 12 years old, a lover of art and cookies
- Cara: 19, happiest in a hoodie with headphones
- Kate: 24, has recently discovered that flowers make her happy
- Calum: 24, Public Marketing team Gen Z’r
Ice Hockey imagines a simpler time when men only came in three shapes (beanpole, Charlie Brown, and Big Boy) and the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia were still together (miss you, besties). The 1988 title had six countries, a trio of virtual zambonis that swept the ice between the second and third period, and a jaunty instrumental score that they play in the waiting room of video game heaven. On ice fights were adorable, eliciting a cheer from the Playmobil heads in the crowd.
This is a game that you can do well in without knowing what you’re doing. I like that. Also, the graphics are simple, so I don’t have to see a bunch of gross sweaty man pits. Most games are so graphic right now. The Zamboni drivers look like Friday the 13th guys. — Charlotte, 12
The goal looks like a butt. Is that what hockey goals actually look like? — Kate, 24
I thought I wanted to use tiny guys because they are fast. But I did not because they keep getting knocked down. I want to use big guys. I will only use big guys from now on. — Abe, 9
Excitebike’s title is unmatched, the perfect encapsulation of how we all feel in the moment before the Pop Rocks really kick in. Race the clock and other tiny dirt bikers in a series of increasingly difficult qualifiers. 1985’s Excitebike was distinctive for two reasons: it introduced the side-scrolling technology that made Super Mario Bros. possible and you were about as likely to win as you are at pulling off that Ed Hardy t-shirt.
This game needs more excitement. The longer I go, the more excitement I lose. All you’re doing is trying to finish the race. I guess I would recommend it, if you like riding bikes. — Abraham, 9
Excite-a-Bike is hard. [Five crashes in the first 30 seconds.] I feel like the person would be severely injured by this point. But I like that you can get back on your bike. Most games don’t let you do that. — Charlotte, 12
The style of the game reminded me of when everyone first got smartphones and they got apps. This was like Temple Run or those early games on iPhone or iPod which you would play when you were bored and there was literally nothing else to do. — Calum, 23
The colors…woah. That green is really bright and the baby blue is definitely a choice. This is kind of dumb fun even if it’s just going up and down bumps and avoiding the black smudges. — Kate, 24
Before gender reveals set fire to forests and launched confetti cannons into would-be dads’ crotches, there was Samus Arun. The hero of the adventure series Metroid — which dropped in 1987 — pulled off her helmet after defeating a giant red brain in a jar, shook out her locks, and blew boys’ minds at a time when gender was culturally binary. The metroids, parasites supercharged by Space Pirates, suck your energy steadily away like listening to your friend’s podcast.
It took me 20 minutes to figure out how to roll into a ball, which wasn’t great. Samus kind of looks like a bobsledder. The game feels like you’re playing it through a bad filter. — Cara, 19
It’s hard off the bat, which discourages me. This game just throws you in and gives a bunch of creepy characters and says shoot them. Then, I have to Google how to do that. — Charlotte, 12
This game is really old. You get better shooters and you’re trying to destroy monsters and get to the next level. All I know is that I keep going through doors. The doors never end.— Abe, 9
Mike Tyson’ Punch-Out!!
Can one impossibly small human best a series of ever larger and more violent stereotypes in boxing gloves? One of the best pound-for-pound games, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! (the two exclamation points are for punching) arrived in 1987. Perhaps the greatest part of this game is the hero Little’s Mac resistance to toxic masculinity. He trains in an all-pink sweatsuit (which slaps) and fights for the heavyweight crown in robin’s egg blue shorts and matching gloves.
Why is one guy so small and the other guy is so big? Are we abnormally short or is he abnormally tall? Glass Joe is 38, should he really still be boxing? — Charlotte, 12
It’s hard; but you’re punching people over and over and that’s fun. The old-timey graphics are really great. — Abraham, 9
I can’t get over how tiny Little Mac is. It’s like you’re fighting your big brothers and they can just hold a hand out on the top of your head to stop you. — Cara, 19
Super Mario Bros.
The most famous NES title features Mario and Green Mario (pre-growth spurt Luigi), a set of brother plumbers who look to defeat a mutated turtle dragon that is not of the friendly, ninja teenager type. At the end of the 1986 game, the player is given the chance to play the levels again. We’ve all been pressing ‘B’ ever since.
It was fun because it was a classic, but it kind of felt like I was in the Stone Age. There are really only three control buttons and a lot of games today are a lot more complex. I lost interest pretty quickly because I think you have to have a nostalgia factor to play these and for people of my generation, there’s less of a nostalgia factor because we didn’t play these games growing up. — Calum, 23
I get why people like this game. The music is good. It’s easy to understand. It’s satisfying when you jump on mushrooms or hit a block with your head. — Cara, 19
I chased a mushroom to my death. The goombas look a lot like bandits. This game is hilarious. — Abraham, 9
Does Luigi have green hair or is it just me? It’s so simple, yet satisfying to look at. This has worse graphics, but they make me laugh. We’re terrible at this game and this game is making it funny. I like that I can laugh at myself when I lose. Most games, I want to punch something when I lose. –Charlotte, 12
Before it was a car commercial, Tecmo Bowl was a football game that gave God-tier powers to running back Bo Jackson. The arcade game, originally released in 1987 and on the NES two years later, allows you to call four plays on offense or defense and then maniacally dive around the screen in an attempt to tackle anyone. It was the very first console title to feature the names of real NFL players, which is why I love Seattle’s Jeff Chadwick to this day.
I don’t know what I’m doing, so I’m just hoping it ends. At halftime, they showed a cheerleader’s underwear. I do not approve of these graphics. — Charlotte, 12
It’s like hockey; but way more complicated. It seems like everybody is just diving all the time. Where are their faces when they high five after a touchdown? — Kate, 24
I’m not a big football fan and Tecmo Bowl didn’t really change that. There’s a lot of noise and whistle blowing. I did like the blocky shape of the players. — Cara, 19
Super Mario Bros. 3
We should all strive to be as happy as Tanooki Mario on the cover of the 1990 title. He is flying toward what we can only assume is a towering stack of flapjacks offscreen. Mario’s suits bestow powers and make him look like a mascot that could never quite crack the main stage at Chuck. E. Cheese. Kudos to Bowser for somehow having seven kids and building an airship for each of them to rule in the four years since the original title was released.
Tiny Mario. Big Mario. Friendly Mario. This game makes me feel all warm inside. — Abraham, 9
It’s bright and there are clouds with eyes. That is amazing. It’s not one of those games that you’re immediately disappointed with. — Charlotte, 12
The suits are the best part. There’s a frog suit and a [Tanuki] fox suit. It makes you want plushies of all of those Marios. This is fun like the original.— Cara, 19
Mario’s rival — Nintendo calls him as “crooked as his own mustache,” — is the chief antagonist in the final title released for the NES and Super Nintendo on the same day in 1994. Wario (portrayed here by Elon Musk) rocks purple as effortlessly as Jack Nicholson in Batman, while Toad is the Bagger Vance of this game, heroically trying to rearrange monsters (and remorselessly eliminate them with bombs) that drop onto the screen in a Tetris-like fashion. The game ends in a freeze frame with Wario falling shirtless from the sky as an animate cloud and Toad look on with concern. Toad and the cloud are all of us.
You’re a toad and you’re trying to beat these monsters. It’s a puzzle that you have to figure out. This is a game I can dominate. — Abe, 9
I do not get what the objective is or where my guy is going. I really don’t understand the point of this game; but, hey, that cloud has a face and that’s cute. — Charlotte, 12
Are those apples? Turnips? [A bomb explodes]. Oh, they’re bombs. This is a bit like Tetris; but I’m not sure what the backstory is… you’re in a forest and you’re trying to kill forest animals? Even with a random amount of button pushing, it seems like you can have a surprising amount of success. — Kate, 24