The Rube’s Review: NES Black Box Games (Part 1 of 3)

Photo credit: Video Game Obsession

Do you know the difference between a Hoarder and a Collector? I happen to think the only two main differences between a Hoarder and a Collector is that Collectors are more goal-oriented in completing their collection and that they keep their clutter in a clean display case, not on a dirty floor. A Hoarder on the other hand has piles of junk throughout their home… you’ve seen the shows; loved ones trying their best to maneuver through a dirty maze of teetering columns consisting of old papers, books, baby clothes, cats (live & dead), etc. They try their best to confront their family member(s) about how their lives would be better if they would just throw that crap out. Sometimes the Hoarder acknowledges that they have a problem, asks for the help and go on with their lives, but most just start the hoarding process all over again. I guess it’s just in their nature.

My wife is very happy that The Rube is a Collector. I mostly collect Tiki Mugs, Hawaiian shirts, Old comics, 60’s monster magazines and toys, Disneyland/Haunted Mansion items, model kits, Hot Wheels, DVDs, Yo-Yos, watches, and how-to books. Our home looks like a well kept museum of Pop Culture. Everything is categorized, grouped, and has it’s own glass shelved area. Every inch of wall space is covered in “fine art” including an original Disneyland Haunted Mansion Attraction poster, signed James Jean and COOP! prints, Universal Monster posters and original art… and I’m still unpacking boxes from our big move back in July 2009. My wife recently giggled when I said with a worried frown, “Hunny, I can’t find all my Batmobiles!” while looking through a glass shelf of more than 20+ different Dark Knight vehicles.

NES Black Box games

Recently, while taking home an old NES for repair (for resale), I tested it out with one of my favorite games, Goonies II… and BOOM! I got hooked and now I collect games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Like with any hobby collection, that hardest part was deciding where to start. If it’s model kits, you start with Aurora. If it’s monster magazines it’s usually Famous Monster of Filmland or Fangoria. But if it’s NES games that you seek, most collectors start the Black Box Games.

After the home console crash of the early 80’s (due to a flood of shitty games, shitty clone consoles, legal issues, and the lost desire to play another version of Pong), Americans were hesitant to spend their hard earned cash on another home game system. Nintendo, which was only known for Arcade games at the time, was confident that their new console would be a hit, but had to be smart about how to market it. So, they did their best to create something that looked nothing like an Atari or Pong console.

NES Control Deck

Nintendo’s finished US design resembled a top loader VCR (ask your parents kids) and with the name, Entertainment System, it would never be confused with previous home game failures. In 1985, the Nintendo Entertainment System was ready for it’s premiere at F.A.O. Schwarz’s flagship store in New York. All Nintendo had to do was address how they were going to market the games.

Previously, one of Atari’s big selling points (other than actually playing games at home) was the game’s box art. Atari invested a lot of time and money in the development of each game and wanted to make sure that it was going to sell. Most of Atari’s game labels and box art where just that; painted works of art. Though eye-catching, they NEVER really depicted what was truly represented… take Tennis for example:

Atari Tennis

The package above depicts a detailed scene of a couple playing tennis. Now, if you were a big tennis fan (try not to giggle), you would be really exited about this game. Just think how pissed you would be to find out it’s just a shitty version of PONG with graphics that in no way resemble the box art. Also, considering that the average price for this rip off was $30 (big money in the 80’s), you would probably stop buying Atari games all together… which was one of the many reasons that caused the demise of the home console. Nintendo wanted to avoid this miss-communication to new customers and went with a very honest and direct “what you see is what you get” marketing strategy.

NES Baseball

As you can see, other than a little shading, the box art accurately represents the game play. This way the customer knew exactly what they were getting. The first 18 launch games were marketed in this fashion, with a black background to make the 8-bit artwork pop. Also in keeping with Nintendo’s plan of not using the words like “home console” and “videogame”, these were called Game Paks with a series of labels (Action, Arcade, Educational, Light Gun, Programmable, Robot, and Sports) that could be easily associated with genres such as those found on VHS tapes. This anti-game/pro-entertainment console marketing (plus the addition of ROB, Robotic Operating Buddy) killed the stigma of home video games and, in 1985, made Nintendo a household name. Nintendo continued their Black Box Game Pak line until 1987, in favor of more enticing artwork to boost sales.

Playing with Power NES poster Believe it or not there is a continuing dispute over the correct number of “black boxed” Game Paks. Most collectors will only acknowledge the original 30 Game Paks that have the black label which include the 8-bit artwork and “series” logos. Others say that it’s all 35 mentioned games on the “You’re Playing With Power” promotional poster that was included with the original NES console (see inset).

These five debated games are The Adventures of Link, Kid Icarus, The Legend of Zelda, Metriod, and PunchOut!. Some die-hard collectors will go so far as to include Hockey and Rad Racer, which were the last to include Nintendo’s genre/series logo on their label. Even though most collectors agree with the 30 Game Paks as the original black box games, this dispute still wages on everyday in on-line forums across the world.

Now, are any of these games worth playing (either on the original NES or as a WII download)? Well, you have to wait ‘til part 2 for the full review!

Just joining us? Get the whole review…

Read Part 2 of 3
Read Part 3 of 3


Most new NES collectors start with Black Box games because:

1) Most black box games are very common. Most were made in high numbers and can be found at flea markets, garage sales, thrift stores, and places that carry used video games.

2) Most black box games an inexpensive, usually around $1-$10.

3) Logically, obtaining 30 games (which most are very fun to play) is a very achievable goal… not accounting that there are over 750+ games for the NES, including unlicensed, Japanese translations, and even new titles (which are called Homebrews).

Written by The Rube

The Rube is co-owner of Rusty Quarters Retro Arcade & Museum in Minneapolis, MN. He is also a Special Effects Artist, Master Chef, and Multiple Threadless Design Winner. Other than writing reviews and doodling, he enjoys watching bad movies, building monster model kits, and collecting games for the Nintendo Entertainment System.

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