The NES version of Strider was an odd creation. It shared a name and a main character with Capcom's arcade Strider, but it was really based on a Japan-only Strider manga that Capcom had commissioned. Strangely enough, the NES Strider never came out in Japan, just like Monster Party. Maybe it was just too bleak for that.
The game stars Strider Hiryu, a member of an international political ninja cadre lazily described in the intro as "the toughest group of people." Hiryu is dispatched by Matic, his commanding Strider officer, to find and kill his captured comrade Kain. Hiryu tracks Kain down and spares him, kicking off a wide and awkwardly programmed odyssey that stretches from Kazakhstan to Australia.
To make a long story short, almost everyone dies. Matic kills Kain and Hiryu's almost-girlfriend Sheena, then Hiryu kills Matic and most of the Striders following him. At the game's end, Hiryu ignores any offers to rejoin the Strider organization and just wanders off, a lonely shell of a man. And you, the player, made him that way.
4) Golgo 13: The Mafat Conspiracy
It's a bit silly to expect pure and happy endings from Golgo 13. After all, he's an assassin whose manga exploits have caused political turmoil, government collapse, the impersonal pleasuring of beautiful women, and the controversial Florida ballot count that put George W. Bush into office.
Of course, we didn't know that back in 1990, when Golgo 13, or "Duke Togo" as he is often called, was just the unsmiling hero of two NES games. The first one, Top Secret Episode, closed its tale of death and intrigue with only a brief rolling of the credits. The second game, The Mafat Conspiracy, plunged headlong into the manful bleakness that's made Golgo 13 a favorite read among harried, subway-riding Japanese businessmen for over three decades.
The Mafat Conspiracy finds Golgo 13 taking down a secret cabal wrapped up in nuclear warheads and orbital weapons, though he's aided by his CIA contacts Sylvia and James. He sets everything to rights with characteristic Golgo efficiency, but there's one twist after the major villains fall: James grabs some secret satellite documents, shoots Sylvia, and heads for filthy Commieland. Sylvia delivers this news to Golgo 13 shortly before dying in his arms, and her demise convinces him to do a little pro bono sniping on James at the airport. The game ends with James lying dead on the tarmac while papers of vital government importance are carried off by a breeze. No one wins except Golgo 13. And he's never happy.
3) Vice: Project Doom
Vice: Project Doom is one of those unfortunate NES games that came out shortly after the Super NES arrived, when the last thing anyone cared about was a game for the distinctly non-super NES. Yet those who picked up Vice: Project Doom got an excellent side-scrolling action game interspersed with driving, first-person shooting, and, of course, despair.
Over the course of the game, Special agent Quinn Hart steadily uncovers secrets involving aliens and corporate sabotage, and it costs him the lives of his girlfriend Christy, his former partner Reese, and Christy's adorably '80s punk hairdo. What's more, Hart finds out that he's a clone built by the evil organization behind everything, and he destroys the apparent ringleader.
But nothing really changes. Our hero's friends are still dead, and his fellow alien clones are still out there. Take note, young Nintendo players: you can't fight the system. You can only walk grimly and very slowly away from it.
The limited hardware of the NES was a blessing in disguise for some arcade games, which inspired radically different and much-improved remakes on Nintendo's console. Bionic Commando became unique and complex. Rygar became a lengthy action-RPG. Ninja Gaiden became a magnificently challenging side-scroller. But such betterment was not for Data East's Karnov. The NES version is a scaled-down clone of the arcade game, and it's all the worse for it. So what awaits the players who make it through?
Yes, that's all. In America, anyway. The Japanese version of the game has three different endings, each of which shows the Creator Himself thanking Karnov. The arcade version concludes with Karnov frolicking on a pile of treasure. Data East, apparently shocked at such blasphemy and avarice, cut all of the endings and replaced them with a single "Congratulations!" screen, making many kids suspect that mom and dad might be right: maybe videogames were a waste of time.
1) Startropics II
Nintendo didn't invent the idea of videogame heroes rescuing princesses, but they cemented this possibly sexist goal with their first two NES hits: Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda. So it was accepted that if there was a princess in a Nintendo-sponsored game, she'd be rescued by the hero and live happily ever after in the bliss of traditional gender roles.
Startropics II isn't having that. The original StarTropics stars a yo-yo-swinging kid named Mike Jones, who explores sunny islands and eventually saves the Zelda-esque alien princess Mica and some other extraterrestrial kids from the overlord Zoda. In the sequel, Mike is plunged back in time to hunt down Zoda and collect Tetris blocks. He meets various historical figures along the way, though most children probably knew that Sherlock Holmes and Merlin weren't real people. That's OK. Neither is Mike Jones.
In a progressive yet unsatisfying twist, Mike doesn't get the girl at the end of the game. Mica, who started Mike off on this bizarre journey in the first place, tells him "I'll be thinking about you!" backwards, and then she and the rest of the aliens fly back to their home planet of Argonia. Mike is left behind to stare off into the sky. What's strange is that the ending of the first StarTropics clearly states that Argonia was destroyed. The game's willing to violate its own continuity just to give poor Mike a case of intergalactic blueballs.
StarTropics II's ending is even more pathetic when you realize it was the last time Nintendo cared about Mike Jones and his romantic failures. Not even the Smash Bros. series remembers him now.