Another Top 30 NES List

It looks like all the cool kids are publishing a top 30 NES game list in honor of the newly announced NES Classic Edition. Luckily I already had a top 50 list drafted for future use so I can cave-in to peer pressure on short notice.

I won’t be writing much about these since this is a time-sensitive topic. In ~12 hours the internet will go from being psyched about the NES Classic Edition to complaining about it. It doesn’t have a cartridge slot, it doesn’t let me play romz, it doesn’t include Kunio Kun no Jidaigeki Dayo Zenin Shuugou, something about upscaling, how can I be expected to play NES games without a hard drive & wifi, etc.. I’ll try to at least share a quick thought or memory about each of these though.

Disclaimer: this list is based solely on my personal preferences. You’ll notice a few major titles missing because of this.

30) Excitebike – Nothing too complicated here, just a little game that’s still fun after 30 years.

29) Solomon’s Key – Although I find the controls a tad frustrating I enjoy the puzzle solving enough to look past them. I’ve never finished this though, level 44ish is the furthest I’ve survived.

28) Ultima III: Exodus – PC RPGs usually don’t translate to consoles well but this one made the right trade-offs. It feels like a console RPG but has all the depth of the original game.

27) Dr. Mario – I only got into this a year or two ago. I played it every night for a couple weeks until I could clear the highest difficulty setting. What once felt impossible is now something I can pull off nearly every time I play.

26) Defender of the Crown – This is about the most advanced strategy game I can handle. Seriously, it’s not normally a genre I get into and this is definitely a simplified strategy game. The cut-scene graphics are favorites of mine too.

25) Kirby’s Adventure – I never played the original Kirby until the “Dream Collection” was released for the Wii. It was Kirby’s Epic Yarn that got me interested in the series I guess.

24) Blaster Master – I saw this in Nintendo Power and had to have it. Back in the day it felt like it took me forever to finish it.

23) Tecmo Bowl – I like football games where you don’t have to know the difference between a 4-3 and 3-4 defense.

22) Metal Gear – Back to Nintendo Power, I had to lean on it heavily to make it through Metal Gear. This is not a game that would be considered “accessible” today by any stretch. I enjoy the challenge but I suspect many first-time players hated it.

21) Ice Hockey – Similar to Tecmo Bowl, this is a game I can enjoy without needing to know the intricacies of the real sport.

20) Kid Icarus – It’s possible I’m suffering from “nostalgia goggles” by ranking this highly. In recent years when I’ve tried to play through Kid Icarus again I usually quit 2-3 stages in. I sure played a ton of it back in the day though.

19) Donkey Kong – This is a solid port of the arcade game even if it’s not perfect. In some ways I enjoy this more than the arcade version.

18) Maniac Mansion – PC point-and-click adventure games also don’t usually translate well to console but there are two exceptions on this list.

17) Tombs & Treasure – It’s impossible for me to make any “favorite games” list and not include a Falcom title. Developer fandom aside, this is a great “MacVenture” style game that mixes in real world locations.

16) King’s Quest V – Sure this is graphically crude compared to the original version but compared to other NES games it looks amazing. The only real downside is the difficulty, I can’t imagine people actually finishing this without the hint book.

15) Déjà Vu – If there were 1,000 “MacVenture” games produced I’d play through them all. This carried over to the NES quite nicely.

14) Pac-Man – Also not a completely accurate arcade port but as enjoyable as the original.

13) Ms. Pac-Man – Ms. Pac-Man is a better game than Pac-Man to begin with and these home ports include tons of bonus content that makes it a totally unfair comparison.

12) Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! – This is the only boxing game I’ve played for more than a few minutes. That’s probably because it’s a massive stretch to even consider this a boxing game, it’s more like a “comedy fighter” if that’s a thing.

11) Zelda II: The Adventure of Link – I know this is most folks least favorite Zelda game, at least the ones that never played Spirit Tracks, but it’s still a Zelda game and that makes it pretty darn good in my book. Even if it was re-branded it would still hold up well.

10) DuckTales – This is another game I’ve never been able to finish, yet it’s still one of my favorites.

9) Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers – At one point I thought about ranking this above Super Mario Bros. and if I ever do this list over again I just might. Ranking it above DuckTales might be enough to earn some complaints.

8) Final Fantasy – This was another late one for me. I played it about 10 years ago and thought it held up well for its age.

7) Shadowgate – This is my hands-down favorite “MacVenture” game. The soundtrack is also a regular on my Halloween playlist.

6) Super Mario Bros. – This is one fire-up a couple times a year. I always say I’m going to do a 100% run but end-up warping. I always feel a little disappointed with myself when I do.

5) Super Mario Bros. 2 – The US version of Super Mario Bros. 2 or as I call it, the “real” version.

4) Metroid – I think my greatest gaming accomplishment is finishing Metroid in an era with no hintbooks or FAQs. Not just finishing, but tracking down every missile too. I was very lonely in junior high.

3) Tetris (Nintendo) – Confession time, I don’t really like the Tengen version of Tetris. Sure it’s closer to the arcade version but Nintendo made something that’s so bright & shiny. The Tengen version feels very bland in comparison.

2) Super Mario Bros. 3 – Unlike the original SMB, I never delude myself into thinking I’ll do a 100% run.

1) The Legend of Zelda – This is by far my most-played NES game. I’m good for a play-through at least once or twice a year. I fully expect to be playing this when I’m 90.

  • Hop! 
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About Hugues Johnson

Co-host of The Retro League, a weekly podcast where we talk about the latest retro gaming news and recall our favorite games from the 70s-90s.

6 Comments

  1. Great list dude. The original Legend of Zelda is, pardon the pun, deserving of it’s legendary status, for sure.

  2. Nice list. I agree with your comments on Tetris. The Tengen version seemed boring and bland, and while Nintendo’s version is very different, it’s a fantastically produced game.

    • If Nintendo has just taken that extra time to make their Tetris 2-player, it would have been perfect. Well, and put the GB “Tetris song” in there. lol

      • The music is the only thing that Tengen has an advantage over, although I always did prefer music B/2, which was included. The lack of 2-player never bothered me, as I almost never wound up playing 2-player mode in Yoshi, Dr. Mario, or Tetris 2.

  3. I always appreciate the personal touches — putting Shadowgate on your Halloween playlist is brilliant, getting Blaster Master because you saw it in Nintendo Power makes me wonder how often I made my purchasing decisions that way, your dedication to Dr. Mario, etc., but maybe the most interesting to me is that Kirby’s Epic Yarn was your jumping-off point for the franchise! Nice.

    And, for the record, I’ll always have your back on Rescue Rangers > DuckTales and Tetris (Nintendo) > Tetris (Tengen) opinions…

    • I also agree on the Rescue Rangers > DuckTales front, but not for the Tetrises (though I’m admittedly not a big Tetris fan).

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