Top 10 NES Games
The NES era is probably the most overrated era in all of video game history. While an undeniably important and influential period in the medium, it has been overly romanticized by older gamers and given a disproportionate level of praise. Many of the games for the NES haven’t aged that well at all, and almost all of them suffer from some archaic quirks.
By comparison, most of the classics from the fourth and sixth generation of gaming have aged like a fine wine. And while many of the classics from the fifth generation have suffered from the awkward transitional period to the third dimension, most of them are still perfectly playable and fun even to this day. When we turn to the third generation and the NES, however, there is a massive drop in quality and scope. Many games that were mind blowing at the time seem rather quaint now, and most don’t hold a candle to their 16 bit counterparts.
Having said all that, there are still plenty of good games for the NES, and there are many that I’ve enjoyed a great deal. I just felt like playing devil’s advocate for a bit, because whenever people make this kind of list they tend to have nothing but gushing praise for the NES era rather than a more honest and balanced appraisal.
There are a few stipulations for the games on this list. Firstly, only games that I reviewed are eligible. If I didn’t review a game, it’s either because I didn’t play it, or I did, but couldn’t bring myself to play it long enough to give a full opinion on it. There were a number of games for the NES that are regarded as classics that I did actually try, but found I couldn’t stomach playing for very long.
Secondly, the games on this list were chosen not based on what was the most popular or influential, but simply on which games for the NES I personally enjoyed the most. As a result, if there are any games that aren’t on this list, it’s most likely because I didn’t happen to enjoy them as much as I was apparently supposed to.
And finally, only one slot per franchise.
Starting off the list is a lesser known game for the system, and one not often included in these sorts of lists. While bearing many similarities to other 8 bit platformers, it has some unique ideas that make it stand out from the crowd. It’s a bit short and nothing that special by modern standards, but it’s a fine little gem.
That moon theme is also pretty damn catchy.
Fighting off an alien invasion may not be an original idea for a story, but it can make for a pretty invigorating game. Tight controls, great music, simple but appealing visuals, Contra is an action packed shooter that is constantly engaging. The lives system is kind of bullshit, but the Konami code mitigates the issue for the most part.
8: Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse
It’s brutal. It’s relentless. It’s unfair. And yet there’s something about it that kept me coming back. While the old school Castlevania games suffer from a lot of archaic design choices, they have a unique charm to them that you can’t get anywhere else. The original is overall the better designed and more balanced game, but I still liked the third game more. It was an ambitious game for the NES, and one can’t help but respect it, even if all of its innovations didn’t quite work out. Still, this is one game I have to use save states for to preserve my sanity.
7: Ninja Gaiden
Many games from the NES era were difficult less because of legitimate challenges, and more from flaws in the games design, whether intentional or unintentional. While Ninja Gaiden suffers as a result, what saves it is the precise controls and the swift and satisfying gameplay. Its story elements don’t hold up that well, but each level is full of memorable challenges, and the game does an excellent job of making you feel like a ninja.
In an era that was flooded with platformers, it’s nice to find a game that’s unique, and you can’t get much more unique than Punch-Out. In the same way that Ninja Gaiden made you feel like a ninja, Punch-Out does a good job of making you feel like you’re actually in the boxing ring. Smooth controls, memorable fights, and a steady difficulty curve keep the experience constantly engaging. I’m normally not into sports games, but Punch-Out has made me more open to the genre.
5: Super Mario Bros
You knew a Mario game had to show up at some point on this list. While I greatly enjoyed Super Mario Bros 2 and respect Super Mario Bros 3, the original is the obvious pick for me. It had an elegant and straightforward simplicity to it that the other games (particularly 3) didn’t quite replicate. Still quite a fun game after all these years, but there are four NES games I like more.
4: Metal Storm
For a game that I’d never heard of before I decided to pick up and play it, it certainly surprised me. A later entry for the NES, it was able to take greater advantage of the NES’s capabilities, and as a result looks and sounds a lot better than many of its earlier brethren. What really sets it apart, though, is the unique ability to switch gravity at will, an ability the game uses to excellent effect. If there was ever an underrated NES game, it was this one.
3: Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
While I never cared for the original Zelda, Zelda II is a game I’ve enjoyed a great deal. It had the same basic formula established by the first game while taking it in a new and different direction. It’s not as good as, say, A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, or Wind Waker, but I think it still holds its own due to its unique features. The RPG elements are implemented well, the combat is satisfying, and while it does have its flaws, I think it has aged much better than the original.
2: Kirby’s Adventure
Almost all of the NES games I’ve played, even the one at number 1, have some archaic design choices that drag the experience down at least a little bit, in some cases being a deal breaker. Kirby’s Adventure is not one of those games. It didn’t concern itself with wasting the player’s time in order to make the experience last as long as possible, and instead simply focused on being fun. And it did that quite effectively, with colorful visuals, catchy music, and simple but charming gameplay. It’s a game that’s worth checking out even if you normally can’t stand NES games.
1: Megaman 2
While I like all of the games on this list, this is the only one that managed to become one of my favorite games of all time. Some bullshit design decisions in the Wily stages notwithstanding, this game is pure fun start to finish. Like Super Mario Bros, it has an elegant simplicity to it, as well as a high amount of replay value. It’s a fantastic experience unlike anything else I’ve played, and one that, as far as I’m concerned, wasn’t surpassed or even matched by the following Megaman games. While I’ll never quite understand why some people hold the NES era in such high reverence, Megaman 2 gives me a glimpse of where they’re coming from.
So, those were my favorite NES games. What are your favorites? Do you greatly enjoy the NES era, or are you like me and think it’s a bit overrated? Let me know in the comments. Thank you for reading, and feel free to stick with me as I move onto the SNES era.