In the early to mid-1980s arcades were all the rage and considered to be in their “golden age.” Their numbers started dwindling toward the end of the decade. In the early 1990s, Capcom introduced Street Fighter II, and everything, for a short period of time, changed. Suddenly game developers started to experiment with four-player games, trackballs, and various other design choices that offered some of the most memorable gaming experiences of the time period.
Once the Atari and Nintendo Entertainment System began entering an increasing number of homes, many gamers stopped going to arcades nearly as much as they once had.
Many of our favorite arcade games from that period were, thankfully, ported over to NES and SNES gaming consoles. These are our favorite ported arcade games that became available for Nintendo consoles along with notes on what changed between the arcade and Nintendo versions.
Note: Some of these games were available on other systems as well, but we’re just focusing on Nintendo this time around.
Punch-out was quite the success in arcades around 1984. In the United States alone it was the top-earning arcade game. It was even ranked Game of the Year in 1984 by KLOV.
The standup arcade version of Punch-Out was pretty unique because it used two separate monitors to display the game. The bottom monitor was for the fighting and the top monitor was reserved for the boxing stats and profile pictures of the fighters. The console had a simple setup of three buttons and a joystick. One button for each arm and a KO button that would deliver a powerful blow when the KO meter was filled.
The game required quick reflexes as each opposing fighter would only show when they’re going to attack for split second. This required the player to react with a dodge in the correct direction and then perform a counter on the open side.
When the game was ported to the NES in 1987 it was rebranded as Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, which put Mike Tyson as the game’s final boss. Other minor changes such as some of the fighter’s names were changed as well.
Released to arcades in 1983, Mario Bros was a two-player game that featured two Italian plumbers whose job was to eliminate creatures that appear out of the sewer pipes. Simply enough the only movement Mario and Luigi could do were running and jumping. The arcade only had one joystick and one button per player.
The objective of the game was to exterminate all enemies in each phase. To do so the player needed to flip over an enemy by hitting the platform that they were on from underneath. This would flip over the enemy allowing Mario or Luigi to jump on them.
When the game made its home release to the NES in 1986 Nintendo didn’t change anything. They kept the formula the same as it was easy for players to pick up and learn quickly. It has since been ported to virtual consoles and arcade collection games.
Contra came to arcades in 1987 where it gained critical acclaim and was the fourth highest-grossing arcade game of the year. Although it was deemed too difficult by some, the majority of players loved the challenge. It was even rated as the best action game of the year by EGM in 1988.
There were many different play style perspectives used in Contra. Aside from the usual side-scrolling, there were levels that used a fixed screen and some that were pseudo-3D. The arcade cabinet had an eight-direction joystick and two buttons, one for shooting and one for jumping. The game featured 7 levels each more difficult than the last.
Two players could play simultaneously which made the game a little easier (if you had a partner you could rely on). There were six total power-ups, four were weapons, and two were auxiliaries. The player would lose a life in various ways including getting shot, touching an enemy, falling into a bottomless pit, or running out of time.
The game was ported to the NES in 1988 and had several differences from the arcade version. Both character designs were changed to be shirtless commandoes with different colored pants. A new powerup was added that killed all enemies on the screen when activated. All of the levels were also redesigned by combing some and breaking up others. Contra was also one of the first games to feature the popular “Konami Code”.
In 1986 arcades around the world were charmed by two little dragons named Bub and Bob. They’re on a mission to rescue their girlfriends and the only way to do that is to get through all 100 levels of the Cave of Monsters. Ok…the story wasn’t great, but the gameplay was so much fun.
Originally designed to attract female gamers and couples that came to the arcade together, Bubble Bobble became one of Taito’s biggest successes. Its simple gameplay and multitude of levels kept players engaged for a long time.
In each level, Bub and Bob blow bubbles to trap enemies. When an enemy is trapped either character can touch the bubble and the enemy will be defeated, sometimes dropping score increasing bonuses. When only one enemy remains that enemy will turn pink and start moving really quickly around the stage. Removing all enemies will complete the level and move on to the next.
Later in 1986, the game was ported to many systems including the NES. Taito didn’t change anything for the NES version. For some other consoles though an extra 100 levels were added.
Marble Madness was released to arcades in 1984 with something that hadn’t been seen in many (if any) arcade games at this point. Trackballs. That was it, the whole setup for the arcade game was two trackballs and a screen.
Marble Madness only had six stages, but they varied in difficulty and size. The player (or players) would control a marble using the trackball to get to the end of the stage within the given time limit. If they succeeded any extra time would be carried over to the next stage.
In 1986 Tengen handled the conversion to the NES. The game wasn’t as big of a hit on consoles as the marble was controlled with a D-Pad instead of a trackball. We chose to include Marble Madness because it was a big enough title that gamers to this day still remember spending hours playing the game with its simplistic premise.
1986 was a big year for arcade games. Rampage was another that was introduced that year. Rampage could have up to three players playing simultaneously as either a gorilla, lizard, or werewolf.
The objective of each level is to reduce everything to rubble. Every building could be climbed on and punched to pieces. Several things in each level could harm your beast though. There are soldiers and helicopters that shoot bullets, bombs in windows, electrical appliances, you could also take damage from your fellow competitors and from falling. There are a staggering 768 levels to go through that take place in cities all across North America.
It was ported to several consoles including the NES in 1988. The NES version excluded the werewolf and actually had an ending instead of repeating all of the levels.
One of Nintendo’s earliest arcade releases was Donkey Kong in 1981. It was the first game ever to feature Donkey Kong and Mario (at the time Mario was actually Jumpman). Mario’s objective was to free Pauline (no Peach yet) from the clutches of Donkey Kong.
The gameplay was fun and challenging. Donkey Kong would throw barrels down a ramp and the player would need to time Mario’s jumps to leap over the barrels. Mario would need to climb ladders reach the top and rescue Pauline. There are hammers scattered throughout the level that Mario can use to smash the barrels.
Being that Donkey Kong was so popular it was sold to many companies in the following years. It was also released for the NES in 1986 and the Gameboy in 1994. In these versions, a few levels were removed due to the limitations of the cartridge technology and the lack of ROM.
Mortal Kombat was the first entry of the Mortal Kombat series. Introduced to arcades in 1992 it shocked audiences with lifelike visuals including tons of blood. The game was so violent that it caused the government to step in and create the ESRB.
Mortal Kombat’s arcade setup was two sets of an eight-directional joystick with five buttons each. Players could hit high or low with punches or kicks. Each character had their own special ability and they also had individual fatalities.
Acclaim handled the home console release ports in 1993. It was put on the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo, both of which edited out the blood and used sweat instead. The blood however could be turned back on with cheat codes. The fatalities were also removed for less violent finishing moves.
Super Street Fighter Ii Turbo
In the fifth installment of the Street Fighter Series, Capcom released Super Street Fighter II Turbo to arcades in 1994. It was very similar to the other Street Fighter II games with a few changes. There were new gameplay mechanics including air and super combination moves. Turbo also had the ability to unlock and play as Akuma through a secret code.
The game went to many consoles with many changes here or there on each platform. Super Nintendo’s version delivered an improved HUD and several stages had been changed. There were also some added from other Street Fighter games.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time
One of the few four-player arcade games ever released, Turtles in Time was also one of the best. Released by Konami in 1991 it was a direct sequel to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles arcade game which was based on the TV show.
The arcade game has one joystick and two buttons for each character. One button for jump and one for attacking. Moving the joystick in a certain direction while pressing the attack button would perform a different attack.
The game was ported to the Super Nintendo in 1992 and renamed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time. The Super Nintendo version had a few differences from the arcade version such as different level layouts and music. There were also bonus levels featuring Shredder and different bosses were swapped out as well.