Top 10 NES Games
10: KIRBY'S ADVENTURE
Kirby’s Adventure, released at the tail end of the NES’s lifespan, was the first game that featured the pink puffball’s trademark ability to absorb and copy his enemies’ various powers. With more than 25 unique copy abilities to choose from, players could endlessly experiment to find their favorite attacks and perfect play style. Though Kirby’s Adventure was considerably more forgiving than other platformers of the generation, its cheerful tone and bright, colorful level designs made tracking down the broken fragments of the Star Rod a joyful experience. Throw in some fun, creative bosses (including Meta Knight in his debut), and it’s easy to understand how Kirby’s Adventure makes our list.
Contra is hands-down one of the best multiplayer games ever made. It single-handedly brought summer blockbusters into the living room with fast-paced action, which was complemented by an effective weapon upgrading system and strong, minimalistic level designs. Many stages even alternated between 2d and 3d perspectives, which added texture to the gameplay. This solid foundation resulted in a challenging (though some might argue impossible) title that could be played cooperatively. And for those intimidated by the challenge, Konami included the now-legendary Konami Code to grant players thirty extra lives. The first home console Contra remains one of the strongest in the series. Just listen to that theme and try to argue otherwise.
Remember when movie tie-ins were some of the greatest video games ever made? Yeah, neither do we. Yet DuckTales recalls a time when developers actually cared about the quality of their franchises, and their finished product was a licensed video game that matched the high quality of the DuckTales cartoon. You play as the greedy Scrooge McDuck and spend the game traversing sprawling locals (including a haunted castle and even the moon!) in search of treasure. With expert level design, an unbelievably catchy soundtrack, and tight controls, DuckTales is an inclusive and addictive package. Plus, you can use Scrooge’s cane as a pogo stick, which will always be one of the greatest gameplay mechanics ever conceived.
Punch-Out!! for the NES could have simply been a quick-and-dirty port of the series’ popular arcade iterations. Instead, the game became a classic in its own right thanks to some important additions, such as basic plot elements, epic music during fights, and animated cutscenes between matches. Renowned for its brutal difficulty, Punch-Out!! forced players to study opponents’ attack patterns and, like an expert poker player waiting patiently for a tell, strike at the opportune moment. Little Mac could use any combination of jabs, body blows, and uppercuts to battle his way through a cast of increasingly ridiculous adversaries (including Mike Tyson in some versions). Though many have braved the ring, few can call themselves “champion.”
6: CASTLEVANIA III: DRACULA'S CURSE
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse abandoned the divisive adventure and RPG components of Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest and instead returned to the simple action platforming approach of the original classic. Of course, the game maintained the series’ signature gothic atmosphere and phenomenal 8-bit music, but also made significant enhancements to the gameplay. The combination of four distinct playable characters and periodic branching pathways exponentially increased the number of unique possible playthroughs. Additionally, enemies were more varied and level designs were more creative. The game also amped up the difficulty level, but never unfairly so. Dracula’s Curse is certainly not for the faint of heart, but we wouldn’t want Castlevania any other way.
5: MEGA MAN 2
Mega Man 2 didn’t just build upon the solid foundation established in the original; it improved upon every aspect of it to create the quintessential run-and-gun platforming experience on the NES. The controls were tighter, the stages were more creative, and the weapons were more useful. The sequel also balanced the difficulty level of the first game, introduced energy tanks and a new password system, and featured both better visuals and a killer soundtrack. As if that wasn’t enough, the game also added two additional robot masters, increasing the total boss count to the eight, which has since become standard. Though Mega Man 3 was arguably just as good as its predecessor, Mega Man 2 altered the course of the series and cemented the blue bomber as a platforming icon.
4: SUPER MARIO BROS.
Thanks to some clever marketing (we’re looking at you, R.O.B.), Super Mario Bros. managed to save the video game industry during the crash of 1983, and that’s not even the reason it’s ranked so high on this list. Pick up a copy of the game (on any available platform), and you’ll find that Super Mario Bros. is a perfect platformer with fluid, responsive controls. Forget its legacy or its influence on modern video games: Super Mario Bros. is pure fun, and the simplicity of the game is partly what makes it so endearing. The princess may always be in another castle, but we’ll never grow tired of saving her.
Sure, Metroid practically created 2D exploration with a world that allowed you to freely move left, right, up, and down, but the game truly deserves praise for its atmosphere. While on the planet Zebes, female bounty hunter, Samus Aran, is tasked with retrieving the Metroid parasites from the hands of the villainous Space Pirates. The game has an unmistakable sci-fi vibe with dark, moody level design reminiscent of a Ridley Scott movie and an undeniable sense of loneliness and isolation. Samus grows increasingly powerful throughout this classic adventure thanks to numerous, creative powerups, and by the time you face off against Mother Brain, you’ll feel like an unstoppable force.
2: THE LEGEND OF ZELDA
The Legend of Zelda takes Metroid’s sidescrolling exploration a step further by providing full directional top-down movement. The original Zelda is a game of choices, of venturing out to save a vast, open Hyrule from the evil clutches of Ganon in whatever order you see fit. The freedom, the timeless story, the varied weapons, and the sheer vastness of Hyrule make The Legend of Zelda nothing short of legendary. In fact, this NES classic is so well constructed that game producer, Eiji Aonuma is still referencing its open world structure as a design template for future installments. The series has consistently reached for new heights with every iteration, but the original Zelda remains an altogether classic.
1: SUPER MARIO BROS. 3
Super Mario Bros. 3 cemented Mario as a staple of Nintendo entertainment when it first launched on the NES. By providing players with a fresh, fun, and incredibly varied gameplay experience, Super Mario Bros. 3 improved upon its predecessors in every conceivable manner. The game was perhaps most notable for its open-world hub, which allowed players to choose branching pathways. With its perfect platforming, memorable music, igneous level design, and increasing difficulty level, Super Mario Bros. 3 truly had it all; it's not only the best game on the NES, but also one of the greatest video games ever created.
Agree with our list? Let us know your favorite NES titles in the comments below!