NES games with split personalities

5 of my favorite NES games that combine genres

Different people like different stuff. In gaming (and pretty much everything), there’s a tendency to assume that if you like something, everyone else should like it too. I prefer top-down Zelda games. If you like 3D Zelda games, you are wrong and I am right. Neeener! What’s that? You think driving games are fun? Well they aren’t. Because I don’t like them. 

But once in a while, a game comes along and tries to bridge the gap between my usual go-to genres, and others that I don’t play that often. These multitasking titles can smash together completely different genres to make a uniquely blended experience. Does it usually work? Results vary, especially in the 8-bit era. So, let’s take a look at some notable multi-genre NES games.

The Adventures of Bayou Billy

I just wrote a full review on this game. You should check it out. Bayou Billy is actually the game that inspired this article, so I won’t waste too many words about it here. 

Konami shows some pretty decent graphics in the driving segments, even if they are frustrating.

It’s worth pointing out that Bayou Billy is the only game I’ve come across that not only spans 3 genres, but also requires the player to switch between the NES controller and the Zapper between levels.

Multi genre AND multi-controller!

As I mention in my full Bayou Billy review, there is a Japanese version of this came called Mad City. It’s a lot more forgiving than the USA version, which is a cruel and masochistic gator grind. 

Still, a lot of people enjoyed this game and it is pretty well known and unique even among multi-genre games.

Really interesting cover concept. I was not sure what to make of this as a kid. Looks cool, though.

The Guardian Legend

Perhaps the most notorious on the list, The Guardian Legend has historically been considered a “hidden gem.” Of course, the game is like 30 years old and very much not-hidden. But it is a very ambitious title for its time, combining top-down Zelda-type overworld exploration with fast-paced shoot-em-up sequences.

Guardian Legend sector 1 map
This is just the first sector. I made this myself, by the way. Welcome.

Players find themselves in a Metroidvania-style world where they are free to explore, fight enemies, grind for money, and hunt for the next corridor (the shoot-em-up sections) to access the next (top-down) sector. It’s an epic game with multiple areas to explore, tons of enemies, and lots of backtracking to open the doors you need and get where you want to go.

Guardian Legend NES shooter segment

Personally, I find The Guardian Legend to be pretty repetitive in the overworld segments, but I have a deep appreciation for what it tried to do. A modern remake or sequel for this game would be awesome!

Vice: Project Doom ad

Vice: Project Doom

Vice: Project Doom is currently available through Nintendo Switch Online. There was some hubbub about it when it was announced because it was a relatively unknown title. But it’s pretty fun. 

Vice: Project Doom NES side scrolling segment

You play as like, I don’t know. A secret agent or something? I’m not really sure. But the point is that you clear out enemies in platforming segments, then hop in your car and race off to the next level in a driving sequence. There is also a shooting-gallery segment. The driving sequence really plays more like a vertical shoot-em-up. Like a terrestrial Galaga/Spy Hunter mashup. It’s fun!

Vice: Project Doom NES driving segment

The platforming segments are really well done, too. They kind of remind me of Ninja Gaiden or Kabuki Quantum Fighter. (If you’re not familiar with Quantum Fighter, do yourself a favor and check it out!)

Vice: Project Doom is a pretty solid title. If you have Nintendo Switch Online, you should definitely give it a whirl.

Every kids’ game needs a dying soldier on the cover.

Platoon

The NES was marketed as a children’s toy. Or at least a family entertainment system. And yet there were about a gazillion ultra-violent R-rated movie-based games on the NES. Rambo, Terminator, Friday the 13th and this one: Platoon.

Among these, Platoon is especially grim. It was a great movie, but it was so bloody and cruel that it’s tough to watch.

I did a video review for Platoon, if you want to check it out. The game is generally disliked, but I’ve got reasons for liking it.

The NES game Platoon does a good job of recreating the grit and desperation of the film. It’s one of the more “realistic” (relative to other 8-bit titles. I mean, come on how realistic could it really be?) combat games on the system. 

Platoon was pretty popular, and got ported to most of the systems of the day, including the Commodore 64, DOS, ZX Spectrum, Amiga and others. The NES port is often cited as the crappiest of them all, but they all seem to have some issues. And by the way, Platoon’s soundtrack is great by all accounts.

Each stage utilizes a different genre of play, starting with a side-scrolling slog through a jungle maze. You’ve got to locate different items and navigate the map while dodging and shooting all sorts of enemies. It’s pretty challenging. But the greater challenge comes from how alike the entire level looks. It’s very easy to get lost, especially when enemies are popping out everywhere!

The next stage is a first-person maze through underground tunnels. I think this part is actually extremely well done, given the technical limitations of the NES in 1987. First-person NES games existed already, but they worked by moving the player forward on discrete “tiles.” You press forward, the screen jumps ahead one tile. It was choppy and crude.

Platoon actually has the player moving smoothly through the tunnels, with a crosshairs bobbing from side to side to simulate the player’s body movement. When an enemy pops out, you can control the crosshairs (quickly!) to target the enemy and open fire before they can attack. You’ve got to react really, really fast because the crosshairs moves painfully slow. But the whole thing works surprisingly well!

Arguably the greatest first-person action scenes on the NES.

Following the first-person segment there is a shooting-gallery level and a timed top-down run & gun level. So all told, Platoon encompasses 4 different genres. It was very ambitious and I like it a lot for that reason. The first-person segment was really impressive for the time. I actually made a video review for this game. Check it out!

Xexyz

Another shoot-em-up platforming hybrid, Xexyz is probably my favorite on this list. But when it came out in 1990, it flopped colossally. Why? Well, it might have had something to do with its having been released smack dab in between Super Mario Bros 3 and The Wizard, starring Fred Savage. Who had time for this weird, impossible-to-pronounce game?

(See the Xexyz feature in Ghetto Gamer Magazine.)

Xexyz is great, though. It follows the hero Apollo as he travels from island to island (in some high-speed shoot-em-up sequences) to clear out the monsters and beat the boss of each level.

The boss fights are good, the level design is good, the shooting sequences are pretty good. Xexyz checks all the boxes for a legit gaming experience. And because nobody cares about it (poor Xexyz), it’s still really affordable. I highly recommend!

Did I miss anything? Let me know.

Written by Steven Long

Steven is a professional marketing writer and hopelessly ghetto gamer. He also owns this site, so you'd better just chill.

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