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The Best and Worst of Nintendo’s 3DS Ambassador Program: Part 1

Posted by Luke Brown On September - 8 - 2011

We’ll admit it, it stung when Nintendo announced a massive price drop for the 3DS just a few months after we paid $249.99 at launch for the latest in handheld gaming. However, the blow was softened at the news that early adopters, or “Ambassadors”, as Nintendo chose to call us, would receive 20 free games by the end of 2011. The first round of freebies, ten NES games ranging from timeless classics to forgettable messes, is now available to 3DS Ambassadors, and we’ve played them all. Here’s what we think are the best and worst of the first round of the Ambassador Program.

The Best

The Legend of Zelda (1986)

Let’s just get the most obvious choice out of the way first. The Legend of Zelda is spawned one of gaming’s most beloved series and some of the most memorable characters of the last 25 years. And unlike many games from the 8-bit era, Zelda isn’t just playable—it’s actually still fun. Sure, it’s a challenge, but if you ever loved the original, you’ll be happy to have it on your 3DS.

Super Mario Bros. (1985)

Again, a very obvious choice, but not listed first because we would have preferred Super Mario Bros. 3. The original is still fun, but later 2D Mario games have much more replay value, and this one can be a little unforgiving.

Donkey Kong Jr. (1983)

Whether Miyamoto was inspired by Ms. Pac-Man or not, we may never know. All I know is that Donkey Kong Jr., like Ms. Pac-Man, is a much more interesting game than its predecessor. Putting you in the shoes of Donkey Kong’s kid, you’re tasked with rescuing your father from the clutches of the evil Jumpman Mario. With varied level design, and new platforming mechanics that shied away from merely running up girder after girder, this sequel is still surprisingly fun after all these years.

Yoshi (1992)

Known as Yoshi’s Egg or Mario & Yoshi in other parts of the world, this one was a surprise to us. This NES game, released in North America a year after the Super Nintendo, combines basic puzzle gameplay with some familiar characters from the long-running Super Mario Bros. series. It’s surprisingly addictive in its simplicity, and a great handheld time-killer.

The Worst

Wrecking Crew (1985)

This game should have all the elements to make a classic: Mario and Luigi, bombs, hammers, fireballs, and destruction. The only thing Nintendo forgot to include was fun. Sure, climbing ladders to smash everything in sight while avoiding pesky enemies sounds like a good time in theory, but in reality it gets tired after about two minutes.

Balloon Fight (1985)

Close your eyes. Picture for a moment the great, wide-open skies. Now envision yourself floating through the air, with nothing but a handful of balloons keeping you afloat. What’s that over there? It’s a cloud. Take a closer look. Oops. You got struck by lightning. Hey, there’s another person up here flying next to you. What’s that in his hand? Oh, it’s a dart gun. And he’s shooting at your balloons. You start to panic, and flutter your arms wildly. Look out, there’s another guy with a dart gun. What is it with these guys? Why do they hate you? Is it because you suck? That must be the case.

Now open your eyes. You weren’t dreaming. You were playing Balloon Fight. I’m so sorry.

Ice Climber (1985)

Wielding nothing but Jumpman’s… I mean Mario’s old mallet, you’ll be forced to try and ascend the steep inclines of some ridiculous mountain range, clearly designed by one of the most masochistic video game developers of all time. For the life of me, I can’t imagine a single person who finds Ice Climber enjoyable.

The Rest

Metroid (1986)

We’re sure this game is great for nostalgia’s sake, but if you were never a Metroid fan, this isn’t going to be the game that turns you on to the series. It’s more entertaining than some of the games on this list, but the one-hit deaths are cheap, and we already know about the big twist ending.

NES Open Tournament Golf (1991)

Hey kids, it’s all the fun of the original NES classic Golf, with little to no improvement, and only three courses. Oh, I’m sorry. You can play as Mario or Luigi. Yay? Look, we like golfing video games as much as anyone, but this game just doesn’t hold any appeal against today’s modern equivalents. Hot Shots Golf you are not.

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (1987)

Ah, Zelda II. Forever doomed to an eternity of ineptitude thanks to your radical divergence from the original Legend of Zelda, this game is not as bad as you remember. Oh, it’s still bad, but there’s something to be said for a game that’s slightly better today than it was more than twenty years ago. Travelling around Hyrule is still an adventure worth taking, though this game barely beats out those terrible CD-i titles (Link: The Faces of Evil, Zelda’s Adventure, and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon) for last place in the long lineage of successful and enjoyable Zelda games.

By the way, it should be noted that none of these titles are available with a 3D option, like free download Excitebike is. It’s a little disappointing, and would have helped differentiate this version of Super Mario Bros. from the other 87 versions we own. That said, free games are free games, and it’s hard to complain when a handful of this bunch still provide gleeful, nostalgic entertainment.

With the next round of Nintendo’s Ambassador Program promised by the end of 2011, stay tuned for part two of our judgment of free games.

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