Culture

The Actual Top 10 NES Games

There are bad games, alright games, good games, and great games. Great games are the ones where everything is firing on all cylinders — gameplay, story, music and graphics are all top notch. The following 10 are the best games the NES has to offer.

10. Rad Racer

What is it?

Rad Racer is an on-rails racing game where you dodge cars to reach the goal.

What’s so great about it?

This game has pretty much everything going for it, considering it was among the earlier waves of NES games released for the system. The graphics took advantage of a parallax scrolling technique which simulated a horizon as players drove through the various stages and their terrains. The in-game music, which was composed by Final Fantasy veteran Nobuo Uematsu, was catchy on its own, but there was the option for silence if someone wanted to use their own tunes while they played.

The gameplay is especially intense because the NPC cars seemed to appear out of nowhere, meaning that if you were going too fast you’d crash and waste precious time trying to roll back over. Too many mistakes like this and you won’t make it to the checkpoints in time, leading to a game over. Most of the fun comes from seeing just how far you can get.

How can I play it?

Unfortunately, Rad Racer can only be played legally with a physical copy of the game and an NES console.

9. The Legend of Zelda

What is it?

The iconic Action-Adventure game that launched a genre and a franchise that continues to this day.

What’s so great about it?

It’s the game that codified the Action-Adventure genre for a generation, and deservedly so. The Legend of Zelda was one of the first games on the system to give a true sense of exploration, deepened by its soundtrack, the variety in its gameplay via the multitude of items available, and tons of secrets that heightened a sense of discovery. The only way it could be improved upon without remaking it is a more modern localization of the in-game text. But why fix what largely isn’t broken?

How can I play it?

The Legend of Zelda is most readily available on Nintendo’s Virtual Console marketplaces on the Wii, Wii U and 3DS.

8. Super Mario Bros. 2

What is it?

A 2D Platformer with 4 selectable characters from the Super Mario Bros. franchise.

What’s so great about it?

The original Super Mario Bros. game is undeniably a classic, but it was merely the base for what a lot of games would later imitate, and not nearly as successfully more often than not. Even the Japanese sequel to the game, known in the U.S. as Super Mario Bros.: the Lost Levels, would be little more than a mission pack sequel with an amped up difficulty and a penalizing power-up in the form of Poisonous Mushrooms.

Feeling this game would be too hard for Americans, but still needing a sequel, Nintendo decided to doll up a game called Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic with Mario characters. This resulted in what we know as Super Mario Bros. 2, a game that gave Mario and his pals more to do than simply run to the right and jump to get to the end of a level. Many of the features we take for granted in Mario games today began here, including multiple characters with their own styles of play with different strengths and weaknesses, non-linear levels, and many enemies that still appear in various titles even now. The game was so good that it even ended up being ported back to Japan, though under the title Super Mario USA.

How can I play it?

Super Mario Bros. 2 is available on the Virtual Consoles on the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS.

7. Mega Man V

What is it?

The 5th sequel in a series of side-scrolling 2D platformers with an emphasis on shooting.

What’s so great about it?

The Mega Man games had a tendency of adding new gameplay elements and tweaking the level sequences with each new game, but Mega Man V was where the formula solidified into what most people know the franchise for today. The Mega Buster was improved from the previous game, the Slide and Rush were carried over from their debut in Mega Man 3 with a new mode, the Rush Coil, and there was also Beat, a bird robot that could attack enemies on the screen in your place once you collected all the hidden icons in each of the eight stages.

Some fans of the franchise claim that this is where the franchise started to dip in quality (if not sooner) because it had become “too easy,” but the truth is that the game just became more accessible. Mega Man 5 is arguably the best playing, sounding, and looking Mega Man game on the NES before it started to rely on the gimmickry introduced in Mega Man 6.

How can I play it?

Mega Man 5 is available on the Virtual Console for the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS

6. Crystalis

What is it?

An overhead scrolling Action-RPG set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

What’s so great about it?

It’s The Legend of Zelda II on the NES that you actually wanted instead of the side-scrolling pseudo Metroidvania we got. Everything from The Legend of Zelda was improved upon in most respects, while also including a more complex plot.

The gameplay eschewed different items for a set of evolving elemental swords with different abilities that would allow players to progress. Combined with a phenomenal soundtrack, Crystalis manages to build on the game that started the genre.

How can I play it?

Unfortunately, the only way to play Crystalis is with the original cartridge, either on the NES or the inferior port on the Game Boy Color, assuming you aren’t willing to emulate it.

5. Mighty Final Fight

What is it?

A side-scrolling beat ’em up with light RPG elements.

What’s so great about it?

Mighty Final Fight is the logical endpoint for its genre on the NES. It took the best from other series like Double Dragon while putting its own spin on things with the source material that inspired it, Final Fight. For more info on this game, check out my previous review of it in The 5 Most Underrated NES Games.

How can I play it?

Mighty Final Fight is currently only available as part of the Capcom Classics Mini-Mix on Game Boy Advance.

4. DuckTales

What is it?

A 2D Platformer with a focus on exploration.

What’s so great about it?

Exhibit A: What could easily be considered the best song ever made on the console.

Other than that? It’s a lovely platformer that took a license and didn’t pimp it out into a buggy mess as a cash grab. For many, DuckTales is the example of a licensed game done right.

The gameplay, which involves using Scrooge McDuck’s cane like a pogo stick to bounce on enemies, results in a plethora of creative challenges. The hi-score actually serves a purpose– the ending is determined by how much treasure you get, which is your score. Get enough, and you get the best ending, not enough and you get the worst.

Levels take a cue from the Mega Man games its engine was based on and allows you to visit and revisit stages in any order you please. All of this is what makes DuckTales set the bar for every licensed game that followed, many of them not reaching it, including Capcom’s own later Disney efforts on the console.

How can I play it?

Sadly, DuckTales for the NES is unavailable other than playing on a physical copy, but the next best thing is purchasing a copy of DuckTales: Remastered for PS3!

3. Metal Storm

What is it?

A 2D Platforming game with a heavy emphasis on shooting and navigating stages by changing your personal gravity.

What’s so great about it?

Metal Storm combines multiple genres into a cohesive whole, which is a feat in and of itself. The level design is impeccable, though challenging, and makes good use of the game’s gravity-switching mechanic. The bosses are as varied as the stages, which go anywhere from being traditional linear levels to scrolling mazes. Combined with catchy tunes and top-notch graphics, Metal Storm is one of the best that the NES has to offer.

How can I play it?

Finding a physical copy is the only way to play Metal Storm without emulating, alas.

2. Super Mario Bros. 3

What is it?

The 3rd sequel to Super Mario Bros…kinda sums it up.

What’s so great about it?

Super Mario Bros. 3 is where the Mario series took the form its 2D platforming entries would follow for most of the rest of the franchise’s run. Everything that made the original what it was ended up being refined and expanded. The new graphical style set it apart even from its second entry, setting the standards for a great deal of the character design and art direction for all that followed. Coupled with smooth controls and memorable songs framed by classic gameplay, there’s no reason a fan of gaming in general shouldn’t play it as soon as possible.

How can I play it?

Super Mario Bros. 3 is available on all of Nintendo’s Virtual Consoles.

1. Little Samson

What is it?

A 2D platformer with multiple playable characters and varied paths to victory

What’s so great about it?

Everything. Most of the lessons in the previous platforming games were observed and built upon in Little Samson. Graphically it’s a strong contender for the best game on the console. The soundtrack is well done, ranging anywhere from lighthearted to intense and vaguely frightening. The telling of the plot shines through the use of pantomime, making reading the manual unnecessary. Check out The 5 Most Underrated NES games for more info.

How can I play it?

You can’t — not without getting a physical copy or emulation.