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80s Games We LoveSource: Windows Central

How do you do, fellow kids?

I see you're enjoying some nice video games on this fine day. Did you know that visually-stunning platformer or your favorite open-world game wouldn't be anywhere near as entertaining as it is without some of the incredible moves made in the 1980s to push the state of the art and change the way we think about video games as a whole? We owe a lot to the classic games of the '80s, and not for the reasons you might think just by looking at images of the games from the past.

The people behind many of these games were blazing trails never explored before. Trying to figure out how to make it feel like you were flying through space, or walking a character through an open field, with precious little resources to do it. These games introduced game mechanics we're still using in many games today, largely because these titles inspired so many to learn how to make their own experiences to share with the world.

Cyber Monday may be over but these Cyber Week deals are still alive

Take a trip through some of our favorite games of the '80s, right here, in order of release date, complete with a little history to help you understand why they matter so much even today, as well as how you can play them right now.

Oh, and let us know what you think. Did we forget your favorite game? Is there something we missed about a title we featured? Got something particularly insightful to add? Drop your two cents into the comment jar below.

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Space InvadersSource: Moby Games

Space Invaders

Developer: Taito

Platforms: Atari 2600

Release Date: 1980

Why this game mattered: While technically released first in 1977, the Atari 2600 release of Space Invaders in 1980 was the most significant licensing deal of its age. Space Invaders coming to this new platform was a huge deal. It told gamers of the age that arcade classics really could be enjoyed at home, and it opened the door for similar licensing deals in the industry.

Fun fact: Space Invaders was one of the first games to experiment with changing the song tempo as you progressed in a level, setting the stage for a whole new way to immerse players in games.

Future games influenced by this title: Everything? Yeah, basically everything.

Where you can play it today: Battle aliens and play many other classic Atari titles on the Atari Flashback.

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ZorkSource: Moby Games

Zork

Developer: Infocom

Platforms: PDP-10, Commodore 64, Apple II, Amiga, Macintosh, PlayStation, Sega Saturn, MSX, NEC PC 9801, Atari 8-bit and Atari ST, and MS-DOS

Release Date: December 1980

Why this game mattered: If you ever played interactive fiction, you have Zork to thank. This is one of the genre's earliest examples, and it's lasted in terms of relevance into the new century thanks in part to its timelessness. You play as an adventurer who's exploring a dangerous land, but to return from your quest you must travel throughout the dungeon and collect items. It's a simple fantasy concept, but what took it to another level was how it incorporated complex text-based commands. You weren't limited to "walk east;" instead, commands like "give car to demon" would also work. Prepositions! What a concept!

Fun fact: Technically this is a '70s game. The first version of Zork became available in 1977, but it wasn't available to the public until 1980.

Future games influenced by this title: What game hasn't been influenced by Zork? There were many sequels and spinoffs, including some that weren't text-based (can you believe there was a Zork game in 2009?), but any number of text-based adventure games have Zork to thank. It was also influential beyond just games. People who work with AI chatbots have said Zork helped them by creating a model for how people can interact with text.

Where you can play it today: You can experience the original Zork Anthology on Steam.

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CentipedeSource: Moby Games

Centipede

Developer: Atari

Platforms: Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 7800, Atari 8-bit, Arcade, Apple II, PC, Intellivision, BBC Micro, Commodore 64, and ColecoVision

Release Date: June 1981

Why this game mattered: In the pantheon of classic arcade games, few can argue that Centipede belongs anywhere but the top. The subtle simplicity of this game, where you shoot and shoot and shoot as the big monster gets closer and closer, is the kind of thing you can only really appreciate with a room full of excited people at your back as the score goes up. Centipede was one of those arcade games where finding someone who was truly good at playing was just as exciting as playing yourself, and it filled a room with energy every time someone took on a high score.

Fun fact: While frequently confused with one of the space-based shooters of its age, your main character in Centipede is actually a garden gnome with a magic wand.

Future games influenced by this title: Centipede was immediately followed by Millipede, but really this game has taken so many different shapes across every form factor you can imagine. Most recently, Centipede was re-released as a mini arcade cabinet you can set up in your home for way less than the cost of a full cabinet. But if you're looking for games Centipede inspired, you can look at pretty much any vertical shooter not set in space. Those, obviously, came from Galaga.

Where you can play it today: Go big or go home with the Arcade1Up Centipede console, oryou can play Centipede on the Atari Flashback.

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FroggerSource: Moby Games

Frogger

Developer: Konami

Platforms: Arcade, PC, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit, ColecoVision, Commodore 64, TI-99, and Intellivision

Release Date: June 5, 1981

Why this game mattered: Apart from being remarkably addictive and endlessly challenging, Frogger was one of the first games to be seen as wildly popular for every kind of audience. It wasn't marketed to a particular gender or age group. It was just something every single person who laid eyes on it could enjoy, and they did. All you had to do was get the frog to the other side of the screen alive, but each new set of obstacles raised the stakes, and the overall difficulty quickly became clear. This was a fun game for everyone, but also not one to be taken lightly as you progressed.

Fun fact: Sega paid Konami $3,500 a day in licensing for 60 days while determining whether the game was worth publishing under its brand, ultimately deciding it was worth it due to the popularity of the title in field tests.

Future games influenced by this title: While the Frogger franchise lives on today as a popular mobile game, it clearly inspired titles like Crossy Road, Caveman, and Croak. That rapid action, high anxiety gameplay style was made popular by this seemingly unimportant game, and its influences live on today.

Where you can play it today: You can find Frogger and many other classic Atari titles on the Atari Flashback.

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JoustSource: Windows Central

Joust

Developer: Williams Electronics

Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Apple II, Arcade, Atari 2600, Atari 7800, Atari Lynx, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, PC, and Macintosh

Release Date: July 16, 1982

Why this game mattered: Cooperative combat games had been done in arcades before Joust, but this is the game that made them popular. You and your friend worked together to tackle wave after wave of baddies by using clever jump mechanics. It wasn't a game with a tremendously steep difficulty curve, which meant many different kinds of gamers could enjoy it.

Fun fact: Joust was originally going to be a flying game, but the developer didn't want to be seen as copying Asteroids.

Future games influenced by this title: While it's clear Joust was the inspiration for games like Balloon Fight and Messiah, the modern arcade thriller Killer Queen is the best example of an evolved form of Joust. This arcade game is best played with 10 human players across two massive cabinets, and it is truly a sight to behold when two full teams of skilled players compete. Even now, there are Killer Queen tournaments taking place monthly around the world.

Where you can play it today: Dig in the archives on Internet Arcade and play Joust whenever you want.

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Duck HuntSource: Moby Games

Duck Hunt

Developer: Nintendo

Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Release Date: April 21, 1984

Why this game mattered: Duck Hunt introduced the Light Gun for the NES and brought the video arcade into our living rooms like never before. It was a simple game with simple graphics, but it showcased the power of home game consoles and was a party favorite around the world.

Fun fact: The laughing dog is so beloved by Nintendo fans that he was added as a character to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. I think he's a smug little pup myself — always laughing at me when I miss the ducks — but people love him.

Future games influenced by this title: Duck Hunt proved that arcade shooters could work on a home console and allowed games like Time Crisis, Virtual Cop, and Operation Wolf to invade our homes. Games like Duck Hunt also inspired the desire for virtual reality to immerse ourselves in shooting games on another level. Superhot VR is a perfect homage to the shooters of the '80s and '90s.

Where you can play it today: Have a Wii U somewhere close by? Great! You can play Duck Hunt on the Virtual Console.

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Kings QuestSource: Moby Games

King's Quest

Developer: Sierra Online

Platforms: IBM PCjr

Release Date: May 10, 1984

Why this game mattered: Where most adventure games of the time featured static backgrounds with little to do other than the primary objective, King's Quest was the first major release to feature interactive scenes to walk through. Water appeared to move, leaves appeared to shift in the breeze, and you could actually interact with the environment. You could see the main character pick things up off the ground, for example. It made a huge difference in how the game felt to the player.

It's important to remember these graphical improvements were coming along as many people still thoroughly enjoyed Zork and other text-based RPGs on similar platforms. Making the overall visuals feel this much more interactive was a huge deal, even if it meant the game wasn't quite as long. Fast-forward to today, and an RPG without highly-immersive graphics just wouldn't sell.

Fun fact: This game was re-released seven times between its original launch and the big 2.0 release in 1987, each with small changes ranging from a keyboard template for shortcuts to bug fixes to an expanded backstory in the user manual and support for more systems. The game didn't technically have a "version 1.0" release until 1986.

Future games influenced by this title: Shadowgate, The Idiot's Tale, and Fable are all examples of games we have today where the visuals make such a tremendous difference in the gameplay. Fable, for example, left actual scars on your player as you continued through the game based on your choices, and it encouraged you to play over and over again to see what different choices do to the actual body of your character. In many ways, the first step for these immersive details was King's Quest.

Where you can play it today: You can play the entire King's Quest Collection now on Steam.

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Tetrix Box Art 80sSource: Wikipedia

Tetris

Developer: Spectrum HoloByte

Platforms: Commodore 64 and Nintendo Game Boy

Release Date: June 6, 1984

Why this game mattered: Tetris introduced the concept of pick-up-and-play games that allowed you to have an enormous amount of fun in five, 10, or 20 minutes. It also helped launch the Game Boy for Nintendo, and the theme tune became recognizable anywhere all through the late 1980s.

Fun fact: In 1992, the Tetris theme was remixed into a dance track by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, the writer of the Phantom of the Opera musical. It reached number six on the U.K. music charts.

Future games influenced by this title: Contemporary games like Columns and Dr. Robotnik's Mean Bean Machine, as well as modern classics like Bejeweled and Candy Crush all owe their existence to the popularity of Tetris. Then, of course, there's every new iteration of Tetris, like Tetris 99.

Where you can play it today: The Software Arcade Library is a great place to find the original Tetris.

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Excite BikeSource: Windows Central

Excitebike

Developer: Nintendo

Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Release Date: Nov. 30, 1984

Why this game mattered: This was the first racing game released on home consoles that left players with the sense that they couldn't put the controller down. The addictive quality of this relatively simple game is still appreciated today, and the biggest reason is choice. It was just plain fun and gave players multiple options to choose from (which was a first at the time) so they could set up their ideal ride for races. On top of this, Excitebike's theme song was catchy and varied enough that it easily stuck in your head. It captured the hearts and minds of everyone at the time, not just people who enjoyed racing or motorcycles. However, it's most unique feature was the design mode, which allowed players to create their own tracks.

Fun fact: Excitebike and its main character, Hobby, inspired multiple manga series released in the late '80s.

Future games influenced by this title: Motocross Madness, Jet Moto, and eventually Trials Evolution all feature major components first found in Excitebike. That fast-paced gameplay with lots of options may seem fairly common now, but it really did all start with this title.

Where you can play it today: Excitebike is now available on Nintendo Switch Online or on the NES Classic.

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Carmen SandiegoSource: Moby Games

Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

Developer: Broderbund

Platforms: Apple II, MS-DOS, Commodore 64, Sega Master System, Amstrad CPC, TRS-80 and CoCo

Release Date: 1985

Why this game mattered: This was an educational game done right. In the first Carmen Sandiego game, the player must track down super-criminal Carmen Sandiego and her cartoonish villains around the world by using clues to figure out their locations before they steal more iconic items. Your knowledge of geography will help you track down the missing items and get promoted to detective.

Fun fact: Despite being the way a lot of kids learned about geography in the '80s and '90s, Carmen Sandiego did not start as an educational game. The original game started with text adventures (see Zork) but as a way to incorporate graphics and talk about travel. It ended up being a hit in classrooms and became the foundation for many young people learned about geography growing up.

Future games influenced by this title: Carmen Sandiego is a massive franchise that's still running to this day. There have been dozens of games, four TV shows, board games, books, and more, with the latest entry hitting Netflix in 2019. More than that, it proved that educational games could be fun, that they weren't confined to their label.

Where you can play it today: Find Carmen Sandiego in several of her mystery games on the Software Library.

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The Legend of ZeldaSource: Windows Central

The Legend of Zelda

Developer: Nintendo

Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Release Date: Feb. 21, 1986

Why this game mattered: The Legend of Zelda set the standard for action-adventure games the moment it hit shelves. It's one of the original open-world exploration titles, teaming with dungeon crawling, exciting puzzles, and the classic trope of the young, silent hero Link rescuing the now iconic Princess Zelda from the villain Ganon.

Fun fact: Shigeru Miyamoto created The Legend of Zelda based on how he explored as a child. That child-like wonder and excitement of discovery translate very well since there are so many hidden secrets to discover, monsters to battle, and new ways to beat the game, even 34 years later.

Future games influenced by this title: Not only did this first entry spawn many franchise greats to follow, like the legendary Link to the Past on the SNES, Ocarina of Time on the N64, and Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch, but The Legend of Zelda inspired many successful RPGs, such as Crystalis, Soul Blazer, and Brave Fencer Musashi.

Where you can play it today: The Legend of Zelda is now available on Nintendo Switch Online or on the NES Classic.

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Dragon WarriorSource: Windows Central

Dragon Warrior (Dragon Quest)

Developer: Enix and Nintendo

Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Release Date: May 27, 1986

Why this game mattered: It's the classic RPG in its simplest form. Grind, explore, and save the world from the Dragonlord. With punishing difficulty but an easy enough concept to understand, players name their character and do their best not to stray too far before reaching the right level to avoid certain death.

Fun fact: The original game was titled Dragon Quest, but for the North American release it was renamed "Dragon Warrior" to avoid copyright infringing on a pen-and-paper game called DragonQuest. Plus, the artwork for the game manual was done by Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball.

Future games influenced by this title: The Dragon Warrior/Quest series is still going strong today. It was considered the cornerstone of RPG elements, even before Final Fantasy. To this day, Dragon Quest games are story-focused epics that have incredible world-building that has extended to various game spinoffs, symphonies, anime, and manga.

Where you can play it today: Play the RPG that started it all and grind for days with Dragon Warrior(Quest) now on Nintendo Switch Online.

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ContraSource: Windows Central

Contra

Developer: Konami

Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and the arcade

Release Date: Feb. 20, 1987

Why this game mattered: Want to fight in a futuristic world against some crazy aliens in a constant stream of bullets, explosions, and utter chaos? Contra is your game. It's an exciting, classic run-and-gun game with platforming elements and a punishing difficulty curve. It's the perfect two-player experience. This game was primarily an arcade experience, but the popularity of its two-player action solidified Contra's place in gaming history on the NES. While this game was one of the toughest to beat, using the "Konami" cheat code as the title scrolls across the screen could make your experience a little easier.

Fun fact: One of the earliest games to feature the Konami Code, Contra spawned several sequels over the years. It really earned its claim to fame in the arcade, but the co-op is why it's one of the best games from the '80s.

Future games influenced by this title: While the Contra series continued for many years with visual and story improvements, the popularity of this franchise spawned many shooting titles. Metal Slug, arguably the most popular Contra-like game, also continued on for many years due to its simplicity and addictive quality.

Where you can play it today: You can experience Contra and other classic Contra games now on Nintendo Switch Online.

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Double DragonSource: Windows Central

Double Dragon

Developer: Technos Japan

Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Release Date: July 10, 1987

Why this game mattered: Cooperative platformers have never been particularly common, but Double Dragon is one of the few viewed as having "done it right" very early on in the history of the genre. Creating the space for people to play together in a combat environment just like an arcade game was a big deal, and the game lives on in history as one of the greats as a result.

Fun fact: The way you can only fight two identical enemies at the same time was due to a technical limitation of the hardware the game was originally developed for. There wasn't enough memory for multiple enemy types on the screen at the same time.

Future games influenced by this title: Castle Crashers and Frog Smashers

Where you can play it today: You can punch some bad guys in Double Dragon now on Nintendo Switch Online.

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Mega Man Source: Windows Central

Mega Man

Capcom

Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System / Famicom

Release Date: Dec. 17, 1987

Why this game mattered: Mega Man was the start of established gaming companies taking home-entertainment systems seriously. This was the first game Capcom made specifically for a home console, where previously it had been only an arcade manufacturer. Mega Man is also widely considered the start of side-quest gaming, thanks to its non-linear platform design. While it didn't sell particularly well, this game is widely seen as a turning point in how we consumed games in the '80s.

Fun fact: The original gameplay mechanics for Mega Man were inspired by Rock, Paper, Scissors. Each set of powers had a strength and weakness, encouraging the player to think about which tools to bring into battle.

Future games influenced by this title: If you've played a non-linear action platformer with a level select option, it was likely influenced by Mega Man. Ever played Doom? Castlevania: Symphony of the Night? Mighty No. 9? The list goes on.

Where you can play it today: The Mega Man Legacy Collection, including the original Mega Man, is available on Steam.

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Final Fantasy Box ArtSource: Moby Games

Final Fantasy

Developer: Square and Nintendo

Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System / Famicom

Release Date: Dec. 18, 1987

Why this game mattered: Final Fantasy is a classic Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) that set the standard for all future RPGs. Following an epic story of the four warriors of light, players must battle the Four Elemental Fiends, restore light to the world's orbs, and save the world from complete destruction. It established many standards for turn-based combat as well as in-depth storytelling previously unheard of in video games. Plus, it has a killer soundtrack.

Fun fact: Almost nobody thought this game was going to be a success, aside from the core team working on the project. Now the game currently is on its fifteenth series entry, has a huge online community with Final Fantasy XIV Online, and has fans frothing at the mouth for the upcoming remake of Final Fantasy VII.

Future games influenced by this title: Final Fantasy has grown into an empire, and it is responsible for creating the ATB-battle system that became standard for RPGs and continues to evolve with each entry. It's no longer limited to classic RPG style, so the Final Fantasy legacy has stretched to fighting games, MMORPGs, strategy RPGs, and more.

Where you can play it today: You can play this epic RPG on the NES Classic.

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SimCitySource: Moby Games

SimCity

Developer: Will Wright, Maxis

Platforms: Amiga and Macintosh

Release Date: Feb. 2, 1988

Why this game mattered: SimCity is relatively simple by today's standards. This city simulation game had the player build a city and its infrastructure while creating areas for work and living and collecting taxes. It wasn't a huge seller at the time of its release, but thanks to word-of-mouth and a successful SNES port, its popularity exploded. It then paved the way for a little game series called The Sims — maybe you've heard of it.

Fun fact: Wright began developing the game in the mid-1980s but couldn't find a publisher to sell it because it couldn't be played in arcades. It finally found a publisher in 1989, continued selling into the '90s, and the rest is history.

Future games influenced by this title: As we already mentioned, SimCity was just the first entry in what would become The Sims franchise. It's best known these days for the base "Sims" life-simulation titles, but there have been other SimCity games, along with SimEarth, SimMars, and more. (Technically, Spore is a Sim game, too.) If you've ever played a game that used urban planning as a mechanic, you likely have SimCity to thank.

Where you can play it today: Build your SimCity on the Software Library.

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Star GooseSource: Moby Games

Star Goose

Developer: Logotron

Platforms: MS-DOS, Atari ST and Amiga

Release Date: Oct. 1988

Why this game mattered: Compared to other popular games of its age, Star Goose actually ranks relatively low. Critics of the time panned the game for being repetitive and not fun once you figured out the gimmick. But what made this game special for its time were the visuals. Your character switched from a vertical scroll to a 3D tunnel with spectacular effect, and it was one of the first games to implement this well.

Fun fact: This game was originally a first-person racing game, but the developer was unsatisfied with the initial concept and pivoted to the shooter we have now.

Future games influenced by this title: Significantly more successful flight games like Starfox and Flight Simulator used the whole switching perspective mechanic to spectacular effect. The way you switch vehicles in Starfox alone feels incredibly familiar, and it works very well.

Where you can play it today: Unfortunately, since it's not the most well-loved game, Star Goose is really tough to find. So, you may have to hit eBay in search of a floppy disk or CD-ROM for this one.

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Super Mario Bros 3Source: Windows Central

Super Mario Bros. 3

Developer: Nintendo

Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Release Date: Oct. 23, 1988

Why this game mattered: Every part of this game is perfection, even by Mario standards. The game expanded the formula to multiple levels packed with power-ups and eight different worlds. Each world and level have incredible variety. The addition of specialty suits, card mini-games, and warp whistles added a whole new experience, and the difficulty scales perfectly as players work their way through the final levels. It changed the face of Mario games as we know it, and it was fantastic.

Fun fact: The first time U.S. players got a look at this game was in the 1989 movie, The Wizard, which featured footage from it. American players wouldn't get their hands on Super Mario Bros. 3 until Feb. 1990.

Future games influenced by this title: Super Mario 3 set the bar for future Mario games. This franchise entry gave Mario the ability to fly and gave him a new arsenal of suits that developers continue to experiment with today. It is the go-to for inspiration for Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy, and Super Mario Odyssey. Regardless of future games, Super Mario 3 is still the standard for excellence.

Where you can play it today: Super Mario 3 is now available on Nintendo Switch Online or on the NES Classic.

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Ninja GaidenSource: Windows Central

Ninja Gaiden

Developer: Tecmo

Platforms: Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)

Release Date: Dec. 9, 1988

Why this game mattered: NINJAS! This action-packed side-scroller took games to a new level by adding cinematic cut-scenes, which added much-needed depth to the genre. Players battle their way through several acts, though the game promptly slapped them in the face with crippling difficulty. While soul-crushingly hard to beat, Ninja Gaiden paved the way for more intricate and cinematic storytelling in games. The soundtrack, cut-scenes, and difficulty solidify its place on many "top games" lists over the years, and it has spawned several sequels

Fun fact: This game is one of the reasons the term "Nintendo hard" was coined. With respawning enemies, difficult jumps, and tricky platforming, it made it easy to rage-quit. But the ending is so satisfying, it's worth the anger.

Future games influenced by this title: There have been many other games in the Ninja Gaiden franchise, many other seemingly impossible games have now formed their own genre thanks to those who love a real challenge. Dark Souls is the most popular common example, but you can be sure the folks who built Sekiro: Shadows Die twice and Dead Cells had lots of Ninja Gaiden in their formative years.

Where you can play it today: Get frustrated to your heart's content with Ninja Gaiden on Nintendo Switch Online or on the NES Classic.

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