I’m not one to ignore trends of people posting lists, and I’ve been in a writing drought, so why not fix that by adding to the load of Top 30 NES game lists in honor of that new NES….something or other that was announced.
Considering I haven’t played many of the “classic” series that fill out a lot lists, I hope mine gives a different perspective and adds some games that people either never knew about or left off their list because the had to add a bunch of Mega Man games instead. The rankings are a bit arbitrary based on my opinion in the moment, and should only be used as a guideline as for where it places.
I’m also keeping the commentary short, since with so many lists, I don’t know how many people are going to read anything other than the games.
30. – Double Dragon
Despite being a rather simple beat-em-up (especially compared to its sequels), the NES port of the original arcade classic was pretty fun.
29. – Bugs Bunny’s Crazy Castle
Not a very difficult puzzley-platformer, but it has a ton of stages to play. Sometimes, you like a challenge; this game is great for the times you don’t.
28. – Arkista’s Ring
This obscure little title plays like a weird mash-up of Kung Fu Heroes and The Legend of Zelda. It’s one of those games that grows on you the longer you play it.
27. – Xexyz
The draw for this game is the different gameplay styles it bring to the table. One minute it’s an action platformer, the next it’s a scrolling shoot-em-up. Either way, it’s hard. I’ve never managed to get very far, but I keep going back into it every once in a while.
26. – RoadBlasters
This game plays like typical racing games of the times, e.g. Pole Position, except that in RoadBlasters you have guns and shoot the cars out of your way. It’s not that tough, but it’s a blast (pun intended?) to play.
25. – Yoshi
This falling block puzzle game doesn’t hold a candle to the masterpiece that is Tetris, but it managed to provide hours of enjoyment with catchy tunes and cute little Yoshis as well.
24. – Tecmo Bowl
While technically inferior to the much-loved Tecmo Super Bowl, I find the simplified features of Tecmo Bowl to be enough to enjoy without stressing out over calling and executing the right plays.
23. – Ice Climber
The controls may have been a mess and led to many a frustration, but Ice Climber was a game I was always fond of. The vertical platforming was different compared to other games and the music was simple, but enjoyable.
22. – Destiny of an Emperor
This game is often overlooked when talking about JRPGs. Set in China and loosely based upon the historical events featured in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms novels. There are minor changes to the typical formula, such as your party consisting of generals who have units (soldiers) instead of HP, and the requirement of feeding your units. There are also tons of recruitable generals, probably the first game to test the limits. I somehow never managed to finish this game, but got near the end twice. Maybe I’ll pick it up again soon.
21. – Déjà Vu
Déjà Vu isn’t the “best” point-and-click NES game, but it was certainly the most fun. It was more of a puzzle/mystery game than the exploration-based alternatives of Shadowgate and Uninvited. Plus, it was short enough that you didn’t drive yourself crazy trying to figure it all out.
20. – Adventures of Lolo
Lolo is an adorably cute puzzle game. It starts off fairly simple, but as you climb the tower, the difficulty becomes brutal. This is another one of those games that I loved as a kid, but never managed to finish.
19. – R.C. Pro-Am
While I much preferred the Game Boy’s Super R.C. Pro-Am to the NES version, I like this one, too. It is a bit easier to control the cars. A fairly straightforward racing game, all in all. It’s nothing really special, but it has no real flaws holding it back.
18. – NARC
I tend to shy away from overly violent games, but this one was a rare exception. The gameplay difficulty was balanced, and the action was fast-paced, but not stressful. In no other game have I had so much fun shooting or arresting bad guys, confiscating their narcotics, and blowing up drug labs. It’s kind of a wonder how Nintendo actually approved the content in this one back in the day.
17. – Rescue: The Embassy Mission
This one brings three different styles of gameplay together. There’s a stealth sequence, a sniper mode, and it finishes as a crude first-person shooter. On top of that, this all happens in the span of around 10-15 minutes. The game is that short, but replayability is strong with this one.
16. – Punch-Out!!
Despite being a boxing game, it’s not a game of strength. You just wait for the opponent’s tell, then dodge and counter. There’s something about the difficulty curve in Punch-Out!! that is just perfect. Each fight is successively more difficult than the last, but it’s rare to be overwhelmed by an opponent if you easily handled the previous one. Mike Tyson/Mr. Dream notwithstanding.
15. – Marble Madness
This is another relatively short game with rather simple gameplay. I’m starting to see a pattern here. There’s a simplistic genius to controlling a marbled rolling around on a course.
14. – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game
I think this is the one game in history where I put a significant chunk of time into the original arcade version before playing the console port. The NES version had extra stages added in. They don’t make any sense (a wintery NYC and a Japanese-style dojo, respectively), but they mix it up a bit from the standard sewer/streets that you usually play on in TMNT games.
13. – Pinball
Pinball was one of the first NES games I ever got. As a result, I spent a lot of time with it. Aside from the catchy intro theme, this was actually a pretty fun pinball game. Now if only I had saved the box.
12. The Legend of Zelda
This is one of the rare Zelda titles that I actually played as a kid. I didn’t love it, but I liked it. It was hard (I still die a lot in the early part of the game), confusing, and time-consuming. I was that kid who drew his own maps for various areas, but somehow I always ran out of paper so I could never complete it accurately.
11. – Dragon Warrior II
This is one of the most challenging RPGs ever made. It’s probably the only one in history where the random encounters between point A and point B are a legitimate threat. Throughout the entire game, you feel like you’re significantly underleveled, regardless of how much grinding you do.
10. – Dragon Warrior
This is the first JRPG I ever played. Playing a game in a passive role took some getting used to, but eventually I got hooked on it. Aside from the game’s sequels, I had no idea other games like this even existed until I was older. I put the first ahead of the second only because the length and difficulty are both lower in this one. The first Dragon Warrior is much shorter and much more straightforward than its direct sequel, and while the game can be challenging to those unfamiliar with it, it doesn’t ever do anything that can be considered cruel.
9. – Dragon Warrior IV
We’ve apparently hit the RPG section of the list. In this one, the chapter system was brilliantly executed, the story is absolutely wonderful and the music fantastically spans a range of melodies. So why isn’t this at the top of the list? Well, in the final chapter, the game uses an AI system that controls every character you had controlled in previous chapters. The AI in question, is dumb as a brick. Casting instant death spells on bosses and using rare items from your inventory when they aren’t needed are just two of the offenses that could irritate a player. Although, don’t let that stop you from playing it if you haven’t yet.
8. – Super Mario Bros. 2
It may just be a reskinned Doki Doki Panic, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad game. In fact, it’s quite good — better than both the original Doki Doki Panic and the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2, in my opinion. The character options are the star of the show here. It’d be a long time before you could play as Toad or the Princess again in a mainline Mario game.
7. – Bump ‘n’ Jump
Bump ‘n’ Jump is a ridiculously fun, but ridiculously hard game. I beat it once using save states on an emulator, but never came close to that using a console. On a good day, I can get halfway through it. The music alone is enough to keep coming back.
6. – DuckTales
I’ve already reviewed this one, if you want more details. This game is fairly short and simple, so it’s not just easy to pick up and play, but easy to beat in one sitting as well.
5. – Double Dragon II: The Revenge
The pinnacle of beat-em-ups, in my opinion. So much so, that others don’t even really interest me. Fluid gameplay, through a variety of settings, interesting and varied enemies and bosses, and a criminally underrated soundtrack all combine for a fantastic game.
4. – Tetris
The Game Boy version is actually my favorite version of Tetris. However, Nintendo’s version for the NES is a definitive second. It has a lot more polish than the Tengen version, in my opinion, and later incarnations just don’t do the originals justice.
3. – Baseball Simulator 1.000
This game definitely ranks on this list, but is really only as high as it is for nostalgia reasons. To put it lightly, I played the crap out of this game. I played full seasons with various different teams. I knew the players names and abilities from memory. I made notes to keep track of stats the game didn’t, and the music is some of the best to ever come from a sports game. This was my game as kid.
2. – Dragon Warrior III
While the original was the first JRPG I ever played, this was the first one I played where I felt like I was drawn into the world. Not only are the towns and NPCs filled with character and charm, the gameplay is some of the most balanced I’ve ever seen in an RPG. Next to no grinding is needed. On top of that, the soundtrack is amazing with many tracks ranking among the best in the series. I say Chrono Trigger is my favorite RPG of all time, but there’s definitely a case to be made for this one.
1. – Super Mario Bros. 3
This is probably expected and a bit anticlimactic. Super Mario Bros. 3 ranks among the greatest games of all time, so it makes sense it would top this.
Special honorable mentions go to: Blades of Steel, Double Dribble, Ice Hockey, Final Fantasy, Shadowgate, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.