Top 20 NES Games

My personal 20 favorite NES games.
March 14, 2007

My Top 20 NES Games

Released just in time to save the gaming industry from the great video game crash, the Nintendo Entertainment system revolutionized the gaming world with hits like Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. I was first introduced to the NES in 1987 (along with Super Mario Bros.) at my cousin's house. About a year later, I had an NES system of my own...which quickly became a huge part of my childhood. Now, 20 years after I first picked up an NES controller...I'm looking back my 20 favorite games for this classic system. I'm sure there will be some disagreements, but these are my personal favorites nonetheless.

#20 - Kid Icarus

In kid Icarus, you control an angel named Pit who must save the kingdom of Angel Land from the goddess of darkness, Medusa. The game had your basic platforming controls of walking and jumping (there was a lot of jumping in this game) and using your weapon, which in this case was a bow with arrows. Each level contained 3 stages (most of them were laid out vertically), and one castle stage where you would confront a boss. Of course, you had to make your way through a series of challenging rooms before getting to the boss, and many of those rooms contained Eggplant Wizards who could turn you into a walking eggplant, incapable of defending yourself!

#19 - Super Dodge Ball

As you would guess, the object in Super Dodge Ball is to throw the ball as hard as you can at the opposing team's players until you deplete their health bars and knock them out (or kill them), and of course.. try to dodge the ball when your team is on the receiving end. If you are playing the standard one player game, you compete in World Cup Mode...where your team travels the globe and faces off against the best Dodge Ball teams in the world. In 2 player mode, you can play versus in either a regular Dodge Ball match, or a Bean Ball match. In Bean Ball, it's every man for himself in an open field. In my opinion, Super Dodge Ball is the most addicting 2 player versus game on the NES.

#18 - Kirby's Adventure

Kirby's Adventure (the second title in the Kirby series) was released late in the NES' life (1993 to be exact), but it was still a worthy addition to the system's already overwhelmingly large platformer library. Although it sported a kiddish look, it made up for it with its great gameplay and innovative level design. Kirby's main defense is to suck enemies and blocks into his mouth and spit them back out. As well as the usual running and jumping, he can also inflate himself and float. New to this game (and this greatly added to the gameplay) was Kirby's ability to steal the powers from the enemies he inhaled. The game was also fairly large as far as platformers on the NES go. The original Kirby's Dream Land only had 5 stages, while this one had 7 worlds...complete with several stages each.

#17 - Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

Princess Zelda has been placed under a sleeping spell by an evil wizard, and now Link must seal the 6 palaces of Hyrule with magic crystals in order to break the spell. Even worse...the land is still crawling with the servants of Ganon who aren't too happy with Link for destroying their master. In order to bring Ganon back, they must kill Link and sprinkle his blood on Ganon's ashes. Whoa! While the original Legend of Zelda was one of the most revolutionary games on the NES, and will always be thought of as an "Absolute Classic"... Zelda II: The Adventure of Link has more of a mixed following. Nintendo decided to go a completely different route gameplay wise with this one. While the original had a top down, over the head, view of the action all the time, this one only has a top down view while on the map. All the game's action, including inside caves and palaces, is side scrolling. Zelda II also features lots of traditional RPG elements, such as experience and level gaining, magic spells, and towns with people to talk to. Oh, and did I also mention this is the hardest Zelda game in the entire series?

#16 - Little Nemo: The Dream Master

Little Nemo: The Dream Master was a platformer from Capcom that was based on the 1989 Japanese animated movie, "Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland". It is sometimes mistakingly thought that the movie was based off the game, because it wasn't released in North America until 1992, two years after the game was released. The game was based off the movie, and the movie was based off a comic strip from the early 1900's. In the game, you control young Nemo as he tries to protect the magical realm of Slumberland from nightmares and rescue the King. Rather then just making your way through each stage from start to finish, you must explore and collect keys. Once you have found all the keys, you can unlock the door at the end of each stage and move on to the next. Nemo himself can't attack enemies, but you can find animal helpers who can. By riding (or actually becoming) one of these animals, Nemo can perform various abilities that will not only allow him to defeat enemies, but reach areas in the levels that he normally couldn't. In the final stage of the game, Nemo could attack enemies with the use of a magic scepter. Plus, there were no keys to be found in the stage...just straight forward gameplay.

#15 - Super C

I don't think there's a single person who grew up on the NES, who never played Contra. Super C, of course, is the sequel...and even though I don't like it as much as the original, it's still one of the better side scrolling action games on the NES. Like in the first game, you move forward in each stage shooting up bad guys who pop out from all over the place. Sometimes, a flying capsule moves across the screen. If you can shoot it before it disappears, it will drop a weapon upgrade. Aside from the side scrolling levels, Super C also has overhead levels...which aren't as fast paced as the side scrolling ones, but are still fun nonetheless. Super C also lets you play the game co-operatively with a friend, which makes it even more fun to play through.

#14 - Battletoads

Released in 1991, just a few months shy of the Super Nintendo's launch... Battletoads pushed the NES to its graphical limits. It also sported some of the most unique gameplay on the NES. Not only does it offer Double Dragon "beat em up" type levels, but also levels where you ride speeder bikes, surf on water, ride giant snakes, plummet down long shafts, and battle killer snowmen. As you would also expect from a game like this, you can play with 2 players. There are actually 3 Battletoads, but one of them finds himself kidnapped along with the princess by the evil Dark Queen. So, it's up to the two remaining toads to come to the rescue. By the way, this is one of the hardest games on the NES in my opinion.

#13 - Crystalis

Like other games of its kind, Crystalis owes a lot to The Legend of Zelda. As you would expect from a fantasy adventure, you take control a young hero on a quest to save the world from evil. The story in Crystalis actually takes place in the distant future, after civilization was destroyed waaaaay back in October of 1997. The Hero (whom you name) must defeat an evil emperor who is trying to revive the "forbidden" practice of science and technology to aid him in taking over the world. As with other action RPGs, your main method of attack is swinging your sword...which you can also charge and unleash a powerful blast of magic. The game also has other familiar RPG elements such as experience gaining, magic spells, towns, shops, and inns.

#12 - Mega Man 5

A total of six Mega Man games were released on the NES, and while the first three are usually met with warm reception, the later three are usually not. By the time Mega Man 4 rolled around, many people felt that the series was beginning to feel stale. After all, you did the same thing in each game - beat the eight primary stages (six in the first game) and the eight robot masters, earn their powers, then fight through several final stages leading up to a confrontation with Mega Man's arch nemesis, Dr. Wily. However, being the huge Mega Man fan that I am...I didn't get tired of the formula at all. In fact, I just couldn't get enough of it. The reason why I enjoy Mega Man 5 so much, is because I feel it has the best level design out of all the NES Mega Man games (not to mention one of my favorite NES soundtracks).

#11 - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game

During a time when the 16-bit Sega Genesis was blowing people away with its arcade ports of games like Golden Axe, Outrun, and Altered Beast...the NES got a port of one of the most popular arcade "beat em ups" - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. As you would guess, the graphics and sound had to be toned down big time from the original arcade version, and you could now only have up to 2 players, rather then 4. However, the play control was still fully intact, and the stages were longer then they were in the arcade original...not to mention two all new stages had been added. As for the game's story, do I really need to bother explaining? Let's just say it involves Shredder, Krang, and the Foot Clan...I think you get the idea.

#10 - Castlevania

The game that started it all for the popular series. In Castlevania, you control a vampire hunter who must save Transylvania from, who else, Count Dracula himself. As you make your way through Dracula's castle, you encounter just about every kind of ghoul you can think of, including some famous ones like Medusa, Frankenstein's monster, and even the Grim Reaper. Your main weapon of attack is a short leather whip that can be upgraded to a long chain whip. You can also use secondary items to attack enemies such as holy water, daggers, boomerangs, and axes. Unlike more recent Castlevania games which emphasize on exploring and RPG type elements, this one is straight forward with basic platforming elements. You play through a stage, you fight a boss, you move onto the next stage. Simple, yet brilliant.

#9 - Super Mario Bros. 2

Super Mario Bros. 2's gameplay is so different from the rest of the Mario'd almost think it wasn't a Mario game at all. Well, guess isn't (at least it wasn't originally). The real Super Mario Bros. 2, looked exactly like the first Mario. In fact, it was the same game, just with redesigned levels that were much, much harder. Nintendo felt that not only would North American gamers be turned off by the game's difficulty, but also by the fact that it looked identical to the first Super Mario Bros. So Nintendo took a fun little platformer they had released on the Famicom (the NES in Japan) called Doki Doki Panic, took out the four playable characters, and replaced them with Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and newcomer Toad. And of course, they added in other little Mario elements here and there like coins, turtle shells, and mushrooms. Despite being so different then other Mario games, Super Mario Bros. 2 is still one of my favorite platformers of all time.

#8 - Contra

Although both Contra and its sequal, Super C, have identical gameplay...I enjoyed the first Contra more. Maybe it's because I have better memories playing it, or maybe I just like the levels better. Like Super C, the action is fast paced, and enemies come out from all over the place, shooting at you from every direction. While Super C has sidescrolling and overhead view stages, Contra has sidescrolling and 3D, third person view stages (about as 3D as the old NES can get). Also, just like with Super C, playing through Contra with a friend makes this already enjoyable game, even more enjoyable.

#7 - Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse

Castlevania III returned to the straight forward linear style of the first Castlevania game, after Castlevania II had gone with non-linear exploration. The gameplay was pretty much exactly like it was in the first, and so was the storyline - save Transylvania from Count Dracula. This time around, there were way more stages. The game was a little non-linear in the sense that it had branching paths. At the end of each stage, you would choose the route you wanted to follow, which would result in playing different stages each time through the game. Also new to the game, were the helpers. There were three that would join you on your quest (only one at a time) and you could actually play as: Grant - a thief who could cling to walls and ceilings, Sypha - a sorceress who attacked with magic, and Alucard - Dracula's own son who could morph into a bat. As with many other NES games from the era, Castlevania III is as tough as can be. Especially those stages where you have to fight - not one, not two, but three bosses back to back without being able to refill your heath!

#6 - Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

Before he was biting people's ears off and spending frequent time in jail, Mike Tyson was the heavyweight champ. During that time, Nintendo released the classic boxing game - Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!, where Tyson was the main man you were after in your attempt to work your way to the top of the boxing world. You play as a scrawny 17 year old kid, who's hardly even half the size of some of the big brutes you go up against. Your movement in the ring is limited to just one spot, but you can dodge punches left and right, and can even perform quick ducks. The main trick to beating opponents is to dodge their punches and quickly counter punch either at their face or their gut. Many of the boxers you face have certain weaknesses, and also special moves that can knock you down in an instant if you're not careful. As you progress, the boxers not only start to hit harder, but much faster. If you don't have good reflexes, then don't even bother trying to face the last few opponents in this game.

#5 - The Legend of Zelda

Here's a game that needs no introduction. The Legend of Zelda redifined the way video games were played back when it was released in 1987. Its world was huge and filled with all kinds of hidden caves, items, and secrets, as well as 8 dungeons waiting to be conquered. Nobody at the time had ever seen a game of this magnitude. As Link, you explore the land of Hyrule searching for the 8 dungeons, which each contain a piece of the shattered Tri-Force of Wisdom. Once you have all the pieces, you can enter the palace of the evil wizard Ganon, who's holding Princess Zelda captive. Although the Zelda series has greatly evolved since the original (in gameplay, plot, and especially graphics) the basic formula of traveling the land and seeking out the palaces/dungeons has remained the same, even in the most recently released "The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess". If it's not broke, don't fix it...right?

#4 - Blaster Master

In my opinoin, Blaster Master is the most underrated and overlooked game in the history of video games. This was a true gem that was hardly noticed when it was released, and later received two very crappy sequels for the Sega Genesis and the Sony Playstation. In the game, you control a tank like vehicle piloted by a boy named Jason through a mutant infested, subterranean world. The game is mostly non-linear, with 8 large areas, each containing several "sub" areas which you could only enter by exiting the tank. Hidden within one of the sub areas in each world is a boss. In order to progress to other areas in the game, you would have to destroy the boss and collect the tank upgrade he was carrying. Much of the action was side scrolling, but once you exited the tank and entered a sub area, the game switched to a close up, top down view. Blaster Master remains to this day, not only one of my favorite NES games...but one of my favorite games of all time.

#3 - Mega Man 3

I love each and every one of the NES Mega Man games, but out of all of favorite is Mega Man 3. First off, this was the first Mega Man game I ever played, so the memories I have playing it are stronger then any of the other ones. Second, the play control was tweaked in this one over Mega Man 1 & 2. Third, this game was a lot longer then the first two...after beating the first 8 stages, and before going off to the final few "Dr. Wily" stages, you had to return to 4 of the stages you beat earlier (now redesigned) and face off against the robot masters from Mega Man 2. And fourth, this was the first Mega Man game to introduce the sliding technique, Mega Man's robot dog, Rush...and Mega Man's brother, Proto Man. The only thing that was disappointing about Mega Man 3, was that it was easier then the first two (especially Mega Man 1).

#2 - Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Bros. 3 is considered by many to be the greatest Video game of all time, or at least the greatest Mario game of all time. I won't argue with that. Super Mario Bros. 3 brings Mario back to the gameplay style that made him so famous to begin with - stomping on enemies, warping down pipes, jumping up and hitting blocks, gaining power-ups, grabbing coins, etc...but also adds tons of new stuff, including the famous raccoon suite which allows Mario to fly. The game contains 8 huge worlds, each containing at least a dozen or so levels. Mario 3 also introduced the map system, as well as mini-games, and even a menu where Mario can store items and save them for later use. Super Mario Bros. 3 is easily one of the biggest games on the NES, and it's a shame it doesn't contain a save feature. There aren't that many people out there who have the time to play through a game like Mario 3 in one sitting.

And now, my favorite NES game of all time...

#1 - Metroid

It was very hard to decide between Metroid and Super Mario Bros. 3...but when it comes down to it, Metroid is my favorite. Ever since I first played it when I was 6, this game has been one of my absolute favorites. What I liked most about it, is how it dropped you off in the middle of nowhere, deep down in the depths of some far away planet. You had no idea what you were supposed to do (at least I had no idea), where you were going, or how you were going to get there. You just played, and played, and played, until you discovered something (whether it be an item, or a secret passage). There was nothing better then searching around for hours and hours, then finally discovering a wall you could bomb...revealing a tunnel which led to a new area or an item that you needed in order to progress. After I spent months of my childhood playing, it finally came down to me entering the final area of the game, Tourian...where the evil Mother Brain resided along with her horde of Metroids. I remember being so excited when I first got there, I actually called both my parents to come into my room and watch. Of course, I was killed right off the spot by the first Metroid I encountered. A couple days later though, I had the game beat. There has never been a single time in my life where I was more excited to beat a game then that morning I beat Metroid, and I highly doubt there ever will be.

So there you have favorite 20 NES games. I know there are lots of great titles that aren't on my list that probably would have made it, had this been someone else's top 20. Hope you enjoyed my list, and first article on Retrojunk.

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