VG Dad’s Top 30 NES Games

Like a lot of people, I thought I would throw in my 2 cents about my favorite NES games, with the announcement of the mini-NES. I’ll be honest: it was actually really difficult for me to come up with 30 games that I REALLY enjoyed. I didn’t become fully entrenched in gaming culture until the Super Nintendo era, so I missed out on quite a few classics. That being said, you’ll notice some pretty glaring gaps in my list. Either I didn’t play them, or I just didn’t feel they deserved a place in my top 30. Ultimately this is my list, and if you don’t agree with it, that’s cool. Feel free to make your own! It was a lot of fun to do! Without further ado, here are my 30 favorite NES games:

30. Battletoads – If you watch our review of this game, you’ll realize I actually kind of hate it, because it is unforgivingly difficult, but I honestly had a hard time coming up with 30 games that I have PLAYED, and that I actually really loved. The first two levels of this game a pretty fun, though.

29. A Boy and His Blob Talk about an obtuse, frustrating game, holy cow. Fun fact: you can actually beat this game within 5 minutes of booting it up. You don’t actually have to collect all the treasure, you can just go straight to the end. Again, I actually kind of hate this game, but it has enough fun elements that it edges into the list.

28. Bomberman II – It’s a pretty simple game, and lays the groundwork for some really innovative stuff when it came to 3D platformers. Why this one over Bomberman I? Simple: vs. mode.

27. Ghosts ‘n Goblins – punishingly difficult, insanely precise jumps, an unending torrent of enemies. All of this and more in this classic title. Not to mention the ultimate “fuck you” to players, when you get to the end and it tells you “hey, guess what? This was all a dream. Now do the exact same thing again for the REAL ending.” Still, it’s a well put together game that doesn’t pull any punches.

26. Marble Madness – a fun, albeit short arcade racing~ish game. Mostly you’re racing against the clock, and like most things the arcade version is WAY cooler (you actually have a trackball to control your marble). Also because it is an arcade game, a lot of the levels are designed to be quarter munchers, which is why this one is as low as it is.

25. Ducktales This is a classic of Capcom cannon, but believe it or not the first time I played this was for the channel some time last year. It’s a really solid game with great platforming, but the backtracking can be frustrating, especially because you are given the illusion of choice, when really you have to do specific things in a specific order.

24. Tetris – Like another game you’ll see later on this list, this is a bit of a cheat since I actually played the Game Boy version SIGNIFICANTLY more, but come on: it’s Tetris. Dress it up, change the music, add new sub-games, it’s still Tetris, and still a classic puzzle game.

23. North and South – Okay, this one is kind of random. It’s part RTS, part platformer, part competition, part history lesson. It’s a really weird mish-mash of genres that you wouldn’t think would be fun, but it turns out to be an overall competent game.

22. Darkwing Duck Another game VG Kid and I played for the first time together, it’s kind of like baby’s first Mega Man. It has bosses and stage select and powers, but there’s a lot less BS jumps and enemies that soak up bullets.

21. Blaster Master I like to think of this game as “What if Legend of Zelda took place in the Metroid universe?” It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s the best I can come up with. There’s dungeons, exploration, backtracking, and blowing stuff up.

20. Lode Runner – Overall this game is fun, and the only reason it doesn’t rank higher on the list is because there are better versions. This is mostly just a limitation of the hardware, as the NES just wasn’t capable of going full tilt. Personally my favorite in the series is Lode Runner: The Legend Returns/Mad Monk’s Revenge oh whoops I dropped this video link.

19. Felix the Cat This is another one that I didn’t discover until starting a youtube channel, and honestly looking back, I judged it too harshly. It was definitely enjoyable, if a little weird, but compared to its contemporaries it’s actually pretty tame.

18. Adventure Island – This one is a little bit of a cheat, because technically I never played this. Well, I did, but it was very briefly, because I realized this game is in fact a port of Wonder Boy for the Master System. There are a few notable differences, but the games are functionally the same: you run to the right, throw hammers at stuff, and fill your gob with fruit.

17. Snake Rattle N’ Roll Another great co-op title with a sad legacy. One of Rare’s earliest games, it was originally it was intended to have a full sequel, but it didn’t sell very well. Fortunately a Genesis port was released a few years later that resolved the cliffhanger ending “We’ll be back in Snakes in Space!”

16. Dragon Warrior – Like a lot of people my age, this was my first introduction to JRPGs. I never played Final Fantasy until FFIII (or FFVI, if you want to be pedantic, but I didn’t know it was FFVI until years later and neither did you, so shut up about it, okay?). I liked that there was freedom to explore and you quickly learned if you were too weak to go into another area. The only reason this isn’t higher is just because it is a fairly obtuse game, even as someone revisiting it nearly 30 years later.

15. Little Nemo: The Dream Master A ton of fun and a really unique concept: feed monsters candy, climb in their bellies and steal their powers. It can be pretty frustrating to have to go back through a stage to try and find the one item you missed in order to progress, but in general these items are hidden in plain sight, it’s just up to the player to be observant and do what the game is gently suggesting you do.

14. Journey to Silius – For what started out as a licensed game and was turned into “just another action platformer,” this game is way better than it should be. Yet here it stands, a great game that’s just the right amount of difficult, not to mention an absolutely killer soundtrack.

13. Ice Hockey – This is another game that I didn’t play until well into adulthood, and I gotta say I regret it. It’s a really solid title with a focus on fun and a little bit of customization. Ideally you want a balanced team of players who can zip around the rink and heavy hitters, but you can’t tell me you didn’t compose a team full of heavy hitters just so you could level the competition at every turn.

12. The Legend of Zelda – I’ll be honest: the only reason this game isn’t higher is because it’s frankly pretty confusing. The sense of wonder and exploration and high fantasy is cool, and it lays great groundwork for future games in the series, but without a walkthrough this game leaves a lot to the player to just figure out.

11. Dr. Mario – To be perfectly honest, I actually played the game boy version more, but they’re basically the same game. Also, I like this game more than Tetris. It’s still my fallback for long road trips when I need a simple game to just zone out.

10. TMNT II another great arcade beat ’em up that I was somehow better at as a child. Go figure. I mentioned in the associated video how much I loved the turtles as a kid, and this game was certainly no exception. Another great one to play with friends or family.

9. Mega Man 3 I mostly just like the music better in this game than any of the others. Plus it’s the only one I’ve played extensively. Fun fact: I’ve never finished any of the Mega Man games. Honestly it’s hard for me to list any of the others just because the series is, as a whole, largely the same thing just with slight upgrades throughout.

8. Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers one of the only Capcom NES games that I actually played as a child. In fact, it might be THE only one. Yes, including Ducktales. I never really got into the Ducktales cartoon, but I was up to my eyeballs in Chip and Dale. Plus this had the fun of co-op, which meant getting to pummel my P2 (or in most cases my P1 as I am the younger brother).

7. Castlevania What a great series, and what a great kick-off. Sure the jumping is weird and the combat is stiff, but it lays some excellent groundwork for what would become staples in the series.

6. Contra This game is fun, pure and simple. I played it with VG Kid a few weeks ago, and despite the fact that we both died, a LOT, we still had a ton of fun just running through the levels and mowing down enemies.

5. Gauntlet In the same vein of Contra, this game is a lot of fun to just run around and plow through enemies, and it’s also a game that doesn’t lose that fun factor despite me not being very good at it.

4. Kirby’s Adventure – The great thing about this game is that it took a fairly run of the mill platformer in Kirby’s Dreamland and gave it teeth. It was like nothing else I had ever seen before with the ability to actively steal your enemies powers and use them against them. I mean, sure, you had Mega Man, but that was limited to 6-8 powers. In this one you had way more and you could find new ones all throughout the level! It was really cool.

3. Mario Bros 3 Mario 3 is still a great game, and did a lot for the series: overworld maps, unique power ups, midway bosses, not to mention the Koopa Kids. But looking back at it retrospectively, it feels a little bloated, doesn’t it? There’s just SO much, and it was HUGELY ambitious, but maybe TOO ambitious.

2. Mario Bros 2 Yes, I know. Yes, I know. I know. But I don’t really care. This was one of the first games I beat by myself, and one of the few games I actually had the patience to play legitimately (i.e. without warping), and it just stands up as an all around better game than the others. Fight me.

1. Zelda II – I genuinely enjoy this game more than the first one. As confusing and obtuse as this game can be, Zelda I is arguably moreso, just by virtue of the fact that you are given almost no direction and are left to figure things out on your own. The majority of the time I play Zelda I I still have to use a walkthrough, whereas Zelda II is a lot more intuitive.

So that’s my list! Do you agree? Do you disagree? I would love to hear your feedback. And as a reminder, I’m aware of some glaring gaps, and that’s almost entirely because I just didn’t play those games.

What do you think of this post?
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About VGDadPlays

VG Dad is an Oklahoma based let's player who thrives on retro junk, silly voices, and puns. His youtube channel is dedicated to a weekly show where he plays an old game with his 6-year-old daughter, VG Kid, who is obsessed with cats. You can keep up with their antics on youtube or find him on twitter @VGDadPlays.


  1. You not only SMB 2 to SMB 3, but Zelda II is your favourite NES game? Your my new favourite person, at least for today.

    Great list.

    • Thanks man! Not a lot of surprises, I’m sure. I deliberated on this a lot, actually, but I pretty much had the top 3 set from the word go. I really considered it, what I might possibly like more than Zelda II, but ultimately nothing felt right.

  2. YES! I love Zelda II too, I don’t know if id say favorite, but i sure love it more than Zelda 1, I’d say.

  3. I enjoyed this list, a great mix of unquestionable classics and personal sentiments alike. Happy to see really solid titles like Journey to Silius and Little Nemo make the cut. Interesting to see games like Marble Madness, Zelda II, TMNT II, and Gauntlet make multiple lists on this site. Also glad to see Bomberman II here — even if it would not make my own list, it is a series I am quite fond of.

    The only pick that really made me raise a curious eyebrow was North and South… not many have made the effort on that one! Good show.

    • North and South is such an oddball game, and definitely an outlier on this list, but I have a great affinity toward it. It may be largely sentimental, as it’s been a long time since I’ve played it, so I don’t know how well it holds up. It may be high time to feature it on the channel…

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