You see NES lists like this all the time. Usually its the opinion of one person or a community of hardcore gamers. This is a list published by 1UP.COM This is one of the better lists we have seen. We’ve not about every single game in the top 10, but they got it fairly close in the top 5. Give or take a game or two. I think the fact LOZ, Super Mario 3 and Contra made the top 5 is a good indicator of the rest of the lists validity. Of course, getting gamers to agree on what the best games are is not easy. A lot of it depends on the games you had growing up and how much time you spent with each one. If you didn’t have one of these games on the list or didn’t play them much then of course your opinion is going to be different than those who did.. or maybe not.. maybe you played it and hated it. Either way take a look at 1UPS.COM top 25 NES games.
Screenshots from VGMuseum.
Tradewest | 1988
In the arcades, Double Dragon more or less turned the two-player cooperative brawler into a gaming mainstay, until Street Fighter II made us realize it was more fun to beat up our friends than fight alongside them. On the NES, however, the game completely abandoned the coin-op’s co-op, yet miraculously enough, it was still good even as a solo game. The crisp graphics and catchy music helped, but the real appeal was in the simple level-up system that gave what was ultimately a simple, linear brawler a semblance of depth. It was ridiculously tough in places — the random, unavoidable death bricks in the final level were especially cheap — but the action was compelling enough that we saw the game through to its finale and administered a sound beating to our treacherous, girlfriend-stealing rat of a brother. And as a weird bonus, the NES version included a one-on-one brawler mode that played like a simplistic version of Street Fighter II, three years before Capcom’s game launched!
Nintendo | 1986
Basically the NES version of Irem’s arcade game Kung Fu Master, Kung Fu earned a special place in the early NES library because, well, it was in the early NES library — what else was there? Games don’t get much simpler than constantly walking left and kicking anything that comes your way (OK, you can punch and jump too). But some games don’t need much else. Who knows what really made Kung Fu memorable — the simple chop-socky bass line that passed for its music? The crackly “KA!” sound that hero Thomas makes upon each attack? Or maybe the fact that you can feel unstoppable for minutes at a time as you mow down brainless kung fu thugs. At least it was better than Urban Champion
SNK | 1990
The Legend of Zelda was awesome. It was also vague, simplistic, and quickly felt dated. Enter SNK. While best known for arcade shooters and brawlers, SNK nevertheless found it within themselves to create Crystalis, one of the most superb action RPGs ever made. Taking the basic Zelda style of a dude with a sword seen in a 3/4 view, Crystalis greatly built on this foundation by applying speed — the nameless hero was fast on his feet — a genuine RPG leveling system, elemental weapons, magic spells, and a story. The blatantly Nausicaa-inspired plotline may not have been the most original thing to come down the NES pipeline, but it kept players hooked long enough to take down the futuristic sky fortress housing DYNA, the computer overlord hovering high above the post-apocalyptic world. And sure, Crystalis has been bested by derivative masterpieces like Secret of Mana and SoulBlazer, but they owe SNK a big ol’ “thank you” for showing how to improve on the Zelda formula.
Tatio | 1987
If anything, Bubble Bobble’s infectiously cheery theme song already provides enough reason for this game to be on the list. It’s the kind of song that is so damn lighthearted and earnest, that it moves beyond being cloying and right into the “wistful nostalgia” feeling in your head. But as a game, it also exemplifies that creation of pure, simple, and addictive mechanics that resulted in many other standout titles from that era. You’re just a pair of little dinosaur/dragons making a journey to a cave of monsters, and you just blow bubbles at everyone and pop them! You can almost consider Bubble Bobble to be a bubble of pure kid’s joy.
Nintendo | 1986
Today, almost every gamer knows Samus Aran is a woman. But back when Metroid was first released, Samus could have been anything from a robot to a burly space marine — only talented and tenacious gamers could learn her true identity as a one-piece-clad, long-haired lady. More importantly, though, Metroid was one of the first games that encouraged backtracking by letting you move freely forward, backward, up, and down through its dark, moody chambers. Metroid started a legacy of collecting, exploration, and, sure, female empowerment that still resonates with games today.
Nintendo | 1990
While Dragon Warrior technically snagged the “RPG” designation first on the NES, it’d be safe to say that Final Fantasy was the game that really ran with and defined the genre for most gamers. Not only did it look great, but it also refined Dragon Warrior’s mechanics (overworld travel, random battles), and even introduced new ones that persist in the genre to date (such as a multi-character party and character class development). Plus, the whole time loop storyline served as a precursor to the crazy-weird storylines that would later define the series (besides the snazzy graphics and the combat system).
Nintendo | 1988
Mario 2 did everything you’d expect from something you could call a flea market bootleg: The characters looked a little funny, Luigi jumped abnormally high, and the setting felt like it was ripped directly from another universe. All of which was pretty much true, since the game originated as something entirely different overseas before being transformed into a Mario title for the U.S. But it was still an excellent action game, and in the end, that’s all that matters.
Nintendo | 1987
Bandai’s M.U.S.C.L.E. may have been the first wrestling game to come out on NES, but Nintendo’s own Pro Wrestling was the original standard for the genre. The characters were as colorful and outrageous as any real professional wrestlers of the time, and guessing which real-life grapplers had 8-bit couterparts in the game added to the fun. A popular rumor was that King Slender and Fighter Hayabusa were modeled after Ric Flair and Antonio Inoki, respectively. Each character not only had their own moveset, but signature attacks, as well — mastering The Amazon’s Piranha Bite, or Starman’s Flying Cross Chop would easily put you on the road to winning the VWA (Video Wrestling Association) title. Winning the title and defending it ten times in succession would bring out the game’s final boss, VWF (Video Wrestling Federation) Champion, Great Puma. Defeat him, and “A WINNER IS YOU!”
Capcom | 1987
Like Mario, Capcom’s “Blue Bomber” had the humblest of starts: A mostly de rigueur action game that was cute, and had some good music, but it wasn’t remarkable. But really, it’s more than that. The game’s elevator pitch is essentially “a game where you can keep all the bosses’ powers after you kill them.” And in the NES era, where every little innovation counts, Mega Man went farther than expected on that alone. Against all odds (not being Mario; the infamously horrible box art), Mega Man became a word-of-mouth hit among the NES faithful. While everyone seems to put Mega Man 2 on a higher pedestal (including us!), the original ain’t so bad either. And after all, it did jump-start a series that’s almost 25 years old itself.
Tecmo | 1988
Besides inflicting punishing difficulty (pretty much everyone simultaneously recalls and hates those damn birds that fly right into Ryu mid-jump), and the muscle memory for wall jumping, what impressed most from Ninja Gaiden was, of all things, its storytelling. Most games were content with a splash screen that outlined the basic premise, but Ninja Gaiden went all-out with cut-scenes full of animation and dialogue. Think of pretty much any slick cut-scene in a modern game, and realize that it probably draws its roots from how Ninja Gaiden opens with a well-staged ninja duel. When Ryu wasn’t using crazy ninja magic or cutting up fools, he was part of one of gaming’s earliest, and earnest, attempts at being cinematic.
Konami/Ultra | 1991
Letting you bring the arcade home, TMNT2 didn’t look quite as good as what you got to play at the local aracade, but it had two distinct advantages: One, it didn’t steal all of your quarters, and Two, it included two levels made just for the NES version. Paired with the fact that the manual came with a coupon for a free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut, and you got one of the most tubular game/pizza/comic/cartoon mash-ups ever.
Nintendo | 1988
Believe it or not, there weren’t a ton of racing games on the NES by 1988, and Nintendo was providing the majority with games like Slalom andRad Racer. Besides those, Nintendo contracted Rare to make R.C. Pro-Am, an isometric-view racer featuring stubby remote-control cars rather than real ones (though a preproduction version did presume that the cars were “real”). Though it wasn’t too flashy, the graphics were good enough to stand out, and having cutesy R.C. cars subtly harkened back to the early days of microcomputer racing games. But like many European games of the decade, it got way too hard way too fast, to a point where anything less than first place disqualified you. Nevertheless, Pro-Am played well, and elements like periodic upgrades and “crazy” power-ups like missiles set a precedent that inspired later classics like Super Off-Road and Blizzard’s Rock ‘N’ Roll Racing.
Konami | 1987
Gradius put Konami on the map, but “thanks” to technical limitations, American NES players never saw the game’s sequel. That’s OK, though, because what we did get was even better: Life Force. This brilliant shooter has a strange and convoluted history, but the NES version is definitely the definitive edition, featuring a Gradius-style upgrade system, alternating scrolling perspectives, and impressive two-player simultaneous action. (Never mind the slowdown, alright?) Bursting with vibrant visuals and accompanied by incredible music, Life Force is arguably the high-water mark for the genre on NES… and best of all, the classic Konami code works here just like it does in Contra, so there’s no excuse not to see it through to the end.
Capcom | 1988
Unlike other home versions of Capcom’s Bionic Commando, which were simple ports of the arcade game, the NES game was more akin to a sequel. Its world was larger, its story more expansive… and most importantly of all, its mechanics were massively overhauled. What was a novel but not especially fun arcade game became a uniquely challenging test of platforming skill. Unlike other games of its genre, Bionic Commando didn’t let its hero get about by jumping; instead, he had to use his bionic arm to climb and swing. It was tricky, but coming to terms with the grappling wire’s fairly intuitive controls gave a player uncanny mastery of the game environment, capable of reaching the most out-of-the-way corners of the Badds’ sprawling fortresses and encampments. Of course, there is that whole silliness about the Badds being bowdlerized Nazis… but even with the serial numbers filed off the plotline, Bionic Commando was nevertheless majestic fun.
Sunsoft | 1988
Sunsoft’s early work in Japan was questionable, to put it kindly, but by the late ’80s, something changed, and they were making high-quality Nintendo games that propelled them to stardom. Blaster Master was one of them: An action game that worked like a mishmash of every NES game before it, but came together in a super fun and suitably challenging adventure. A somewhat open Metroid-like overworld invited you to explore every cranny with your jumping supertank, and top-down, on-foot sub-levels set up the terrifying boss fights you’d encounter within. By the end of the game, you had enough upgrades to feel like you could conquer the world, and never once thought of taking a break. Blaster Master was one of those games where, despite some imperfections, you could tell it had passion behind it, and unfortunately (or fortunately?), its sequels could barely live up to the legacy.
Konami | 1987
Castlevania is another game that struck mass appeal without being a distinctly awesome game. Perhaps like many kids (OK, boys), the appeal of movie monsters that tends to reach a boiling point around Halloween is further manifested in Castlevania, where you play a whip-wielding warrior cracking holes in fishmen, giant bats, flying Medusa heads, and Count Dracula himself. Nevertheless, the platforming action wasn’t horrible, and despite hero Simon Belmont dropping like a hot rock off any size ledge, we dealt with the questionable physics and reveled in the simple pleasure of destroying brick walls that conceal turkey legs.
Capcom | 1989
While most times, a licensed game equates to dreck or mediocrity, there was a brief golden age when licensed games were actually really damn good, in no small part due to Capcom’s Disney titles. DuckTales is one of the first, and perhaps the best example of said golden age — it looked and controlled great, had a fantastic soundtrack, and even a nonlinear structure. There’s little doubt that it essentially combined the best of Mega Man and the DuckTales cartoon into a superlative licensed game. And, really, any game where you can play as a billionaire mallard hopping around the moon on a pogo stick has got to be one of the best 25 games ever.
Nintendo | 1989
The first Dragon Warrior game (originally Dragon Quest, as we now know it) is not exactly the same ame that was released in Japan. Originally published by Enix, Nintendo took over distributing the game in the States, and with three years until release, they had the resources to update the graphics, add a battery save system, and include a memorable “Olde English” localization. But what probably got the game more attention than anything else was that, for a limited time, you could get a free copy with a subscription to Nintendo Power magazine. Despite regular sequels, the series was quickly eclipsed by Final Fantasy in the States. But as a template for how to turn Dungeons & Dragons into an approachable experience that’s fun enough for even a kid to enjoy with just a two-button controller, you can’t deny the importance of Dragon Warrior.
Capcom | 1988
How do you describe perfection? Everything about Mega Man 2 is exquisitely tuned, from the obvious stuff (like the astounding music) to its more subtle elements, like the way every weapon in your arsenal is useful in multiple situations. The game catches the player’s eye with its simple yet charismatic visuals, draws them in with its snappy and responsive play control, and keeps them playing through to the credits with a seemingly endless parade of challenging situations. More than 20 years on, Capcom continues to look back at the second Mega Man adventure not only as a high point of the series, but of their entire library, and with good reason. This game is a stunning example of what passion and creativity bring to the medium: it’s a labor of love designed by a small but inspired team, and the personal attention given this masterpiece makes it shine even now.
Technos | 1990
Technos, the original makers of Double Dragon, could have easily sat pretty after making that smash hit beat-em-up, but they realized that that simple genre was its stock and trade, and there was still plenty left to do. Although RCR is more like the sequel to Renegade if you go by the original Japanese versions, it’s a marked evolution of the genre nonetheless. The do-good rough-housers Alex and Ryan can dash and leap like Mario, can use any tire or trash can on the ground as a weapon, enjoy a good sauna, and can make lowly thugs barf with agony. All during a quest to rescue a girl from the clutches of an evil rival high schol. Smooth as butter, refreshingly comical, and with RPG-like length and value, there’s no question that RCR should place higher than its forebears.
Nintendo | 1987
Before the scandals, prison conviction, and face tattoo, Mike Tyson was one of the greatest heavyweight boxers the world had ever seen. And so it was only natural that he’d grace the cover of the home version of Nintendo’s arcade boxing game — the game was full of ridiculous (and occasionally racist) characters, but having Mike Tyson as the final challenge was a fitting, intimidating, and punishingly difficult end to a terrific game. Tyson was replaced by Mr. Dream in the game’s re-release, and he never made an appearance in any of Punch-Out!!’s other iterations, but he certainly helped raise the profile of an otherwise solid boxing game to “undisputed world champion” status.
Nintendo | 1985
You can make a convincing argument that Super Mario Bros. 3 is the best NES Mario game — in fact, we’re about to do exactly that — but there’s something to be said for the original’s simplicity. When all you had to worry about was running, jumping, and collecting coins, with an occasional fireball flung or Starman that let you mow down enemies. When you didn’t have to pull anything out of the ground or fly in midair. Ah yes, those were the good times, and it’s too fitting that both this game and the NES itself share an anniversary. They’re joined at the proverbial hip.
Konami | 1987
For those of us who grew up during the ’80s when Contra debuted, it was basically Commando, Terminator, and Predator rolled into one super-action spectacular. Contra is quite simply the epitome of the “men with guns who shoot things while running left to right, and occasionally from back to front” genre. It pretty much defined the language of future sidescrolling run ‘n’ gun games — it’s the reason why gamers now instinctively understand concepts like the Spread Gun, or the “Special” power-up, or the Konami Code, or why it’s better to have two guys with guns shooting aliens instead of just one.
Nintendo | 1986
With little direction and minimal dialogue, the first game in the Zelda series was as much about the power of imagination as it was about slaying dragons and saving the kingdom of Hyrule. While not ideal for a first-timer, you could explore the game’s dungeons out of order; it was your choice whether you wanted to search for the game’s most powerful swords and rings or ignore them completely and just focus on defeating Ganon and saving the princess. And with plenty of hidden rooms, a few minigames, and an infamous “second quest,” Zelda was not a game short on choices, and will always be remembered more for its engrossing gameplay and (catchy theme) rather than its technological achievements.
Nintendo | 1990
Mario 1 was the breakout, and Mario 2 was a much in-demand hit, but when it comes to sheer force of hype, no NES game compares to Super Mario Bros. 3. Held back for two years after its Japanese release, most Nintendo kids had no clue SMB3 existed during that time, perhaps because the “Inter-Net” was still a thing college nerds discussed Star Trek on. That relative secrecy helped Nintendo craft the launch of the game into a full-on marketing assault the likes of which NES fans had never seen. The first salvo being the game’s debut in the 1989 movieThe Wizard, wherein the film’s main character struggled to keep a high score in the game during the climactic national game tournament. Hackneyed as it was, that public debut kept the thought of SMB3 humming in our heads for months on end.
Just thank god it was a good game. Everything established in the first Super Mario Bros. was blown out to a factor of five in SMB3. The eight worlds with four levels became eight distinct regions with as many levels as needed; access to warp zones had to be earned, and power-ups expanded to a variety of “suits” that were as adorable as they were awesome (“you can dress as a Hammer Brother? OMIGOD”). SMB3 made such an impression on gamers (and indeed the Mario series as a whole) that after 20 years, many of us prefer it over Super Mario World, which was technically superior, but kind of followed the same formula. Again, few NES games could compare to SMB3’s excitement, but neither could they contest its polish, resulting satisfaction, and overall appeal for the rest of the NES’s life. So why the hell not Number 1?
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