I was a late-comer to the NES party, as I didn't have one growing up. It wasn't until a few years ago that I got my NES, but I was able to enjoy games for the system years before that thanks to the Virtual Console. Owning the system allowed me to fill in gaps in my library that the VC can't, so I've been able to play plenty more titles than I would have otherwise.
While the NES isn't one of my favorite systems, I still do enjoy it quite a bit. It has some great games, and it is always interesting to see how classic genres and series originated. While not every title has stood the test of time, plenty of NES games are still worth playing today. Here are my top 10!
This list is based on my personal opinion of each game. Keep in mind that I haven't played some "essential" titles like Castlevania, Blaster Master, or Ninja Gaiden. I'm going to let my personal preferences be reflected in this list, so if you're the type to get upset that say, Castlevania or Mario 3 isn't included, then you should keep in mind that this is all just my opinion. I'm not trying to say what is "objectively the best", just which games I like the most.
The Mysterious Murasame Castle is a tough, but rewarding game that keeps you on the edge of your seat. In many ways this is Zelda's action-packed and more straightforward sequel. They control and look similarly, but where Zelda is explorative and inspired by medieval Europe, The Mysterious Murasame Castle delivers intense action-based gameplay with an appealing medieval Japanese setting.
Getting to finally play this has been a real treat. Considering how hesitant Nintendo can be to localize some games, it feels like we're lucky to have the chance to play The Mysterious Murasame Castle.
Little Nemo: The Dream Master
Little Nemo is a fun adventure through a trippy dreamlike whorld of mushrooms, gumdrops, toy trains, and wearing the carcasses of overfed animals. This game is a little insane, which helps it to stand out in my mind- there were some interesting level themes here. Fittingly so, it often feels like you're traveling through the dreams of a child.
I never did finish this game, though. You can't save, so you have to beat the whole thing in one shot. I got so close to the end, but there was this level that was giving me trouble, and by that point it was 3 in the morning of a weeknight. I had no choice but to give up and go to bed. Oh well, I still had fun. I think it says a lot that I was willing to stay up that late to try and finish Little Nemo.
I really should play this game again.
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
Man, this game is legendary. One of the most popular NES games (and with good reason) Punch Out is a pure joy to play. Silky smooth animation allows you to read enemies' movements and respond accordingly. It feels so good to swiftly dodge a foe's attack and respond with some punches of your own. Characters are charming and full of life and the gameplay is simple, yet rewarding.
This game perfectly exemplifies what makes the NES great; creative ideas, inspired design, and impressive use of limited technology. There's a reason Punch Out is considered a classic.
Mega Man 2
Don't take this game's low position relative to the rest of the series give the wrong impression; Mega Man 2 is awesome. Competition on this list is stiff and other Mega Man games set a high standard to live up to. However, none of that stops Mega Man 2 from being an enjoyable game. So much of what makes Mega Man, well, Mega Man started here, and if I played the games in order maybe this would be my favorite because of that.
As it stands, Mega Man 2 is one of the best games on the NES. This game makes a great starting point for the Mega Man series, introducing players to the series's core elements without overwhelming them with too many mechanics or too much difficulty.
Mega Man 3
In addition to adding Rush and the slide, Mega Man 3 reaches a nice high point for level design in the classic series. In a franchise known for having rocking soundtracks, Mega Man 3 features one of the best. The opening theme in particular always gets me psyched up to play the game.
I had a hard time deciding between this and Mega Man 2, as I've played both games to the point of being a little tired of them. While nothing in Mega Man 2 frustrates me like those Doc Robot stages do, Mega Man 3 gets the edge thanks to better level and boss design. However the Doc Robot stages and some sub-par Wily levels keep this title from beating out the next Mega Man game on this list.
There's a certain appeal to the relative simplicity of the original Mega Man. It's brief, uncomplicated, and enjoyable. It's not as refined as later titles, but it's still a lot of fun.
It is hard for some to revisit this game after the improvements of later Mega Man games, but I enjoy what Mega Man has to offer. It's pretty tough, but perseverance through the hardship is rewarded with a great feeling of accomplishment. Also, the Yellow Devil might be my favorite Mega Man boss.
Zelda II: The Adventure of Link
Yeah, it's kind of flawed and rough around the edges, but I love Zelda 2. The difficulty is punishing, but satisfying and I like the feeling of progress I get from leveling up. Although the way this game deviates from the Zelda formula may alienate some, I find it to be a wonderful change of pace from the rest of the series.
This is a different take on the Zelda formula, but it's one that I've come to appreciate.
This latecomer to the NES library pushes the machines to its limits, with impressive graphics and a variety of ways to play. From the character design, to the graphics, to the music, this is one charming experience.
Relaxing and taking in the adorable visuals and upbeat music is a wonderful experience that shouldn't be missed. There are multiple re-releases to choose from, so you have plenty of options to try Kirby's Adventure if you missed out on it the first time around. It's well worth it.
Mega Man 4
This entry distinguishes itself from the rest of the NES run of Mega Man titles by placing special emphasis on instant death traps. This has the potential to ruin the game (Like how Mega Man 9 took things way too far), but fortunately, Mega Man 4 hits just the right level of tense action without being infuriating. This title also introduced the controversial charge shot. While I can understand why some don't like it, I'm perfectly fine with the new mechanic's inclusion.
The stages and robot masters are of the highest quality, exhibiting some of the best that Mega Man has to offer. Mega Man 4 is yet another wonderful 2D platformer that helped to make the NES such an enjoyable system.
Mega Man 5
The core Mega Man experience is already phenomenal, but Mega Man 5 is where the original series hit its peak in quality, polishing the series to a gleam. The Protoman levels can be a drag, but that's more than made up for by the quality of the robot masters' levels.
If you passed off Mega Man 5 as "just another Mega Man" I suggest you give it another chance. It may not be particularly innovative, but it is able to take one of the best series on the system and push the level of quality to its highest point. I enjoy Mega Man quite a bit, so it makes sense that the most refined version of that template would be my favorite NES game.
Looking back, there was quite a bit of Mega Man on this list, huh? The reason for that is pretty simple: I really like Mega Man. Mega Man 6 would have made the list too if I felt that it was on par with the rest of the NES titles, but for whatever reason I enjoyed that game the least. I also left out Kid Icarus because I've only played the enhanced 3DS port. While I'm at it, here are some other honorable mentions:
Mendal Palace Batman North and South Mother Ufouria: The Saga
Because so many of these games are platformers, I didn't have as much to say as I initially though I would. It's kind of hard to creatively describe what makes a 2D platformer enjoyable since the genre is so simple, especially when half of the game's I'm writing about are so similar. Hopefully I did a good job. If this list is well received I might do a list of my top 10 SNES games when I have the time. That list is more diverse and I think I'll have more to say about each of the games on it.
I generally try to avoid resorting to basic descriptions of how the games work when I'm discussing them, since the reason I take the time to read top 10's is to see somebody else's opinion. If I wanted to know about a game's mechanics or details about how it plays, I would check wikipedia or a review. That's not to say lists that take that approach are bad; just that they're not the kind of list that I'm personally interested in reading or writing.
Anyway, thank you very much for taking the time to read this and I hope you have a good day.
I'm tempted to try Ninja Gaiden. I did use save states with Castlevania, but only between rooms. So effectively I had infinite lives. I'm confident that I could have at least made it to the reaper (second to last boss) without save states, but I still used them to avoid frustration and monotony. I'd rather use unlimited lives and play the game a couple times through than get my time in by stressfully trying to play each area perfectly for fear of running out of lives. I could have gotten through most of the game without save states, but it would have been more time consuming and frustrating. I would probably use the same approach for Ninja Gaiden.
I'd say most of Ninja Gaiden is easier than the last 3 or 4 stages of Castlevania, but the final couple worlds are super tough. What's more, (spoilers to be safe) in most of the game, if you lose a life you start from the beginning of the room (or if you get Game Over, from the beginning of the stage). But if you lose a life on the last boss, for some reason it kicks you wayyy back to the beginning of the final world, which is a nightmare to get through in its own right. So that would be a good contender for a save state.
Oddly enough, I found Castlevania to be pretty easy when I played it for the first time a few years ago. Only part that gave me any trouble at all was the final boss--I think I spent about 2 or 3 hours on the rest of the game, and about 2 hours on Dracula alone (and that was just because I was fatigued and not understanding his attack patterns!).
I mean, the game wasn't easy easy, but not any harder than any of the Mega Man games. Murasame Castle is easily the hardest game on the list!
I actually find Super Mario Bros. to be really difficult in World 8. That's the last mainline Mario game I ever beat! Maybe 2 and 3 were just more engaging so I was willing to be more persistent with them.
...point is, I'm curious what I'd think of Ninja Gaiden, since I always see it compared to Castlevania.
Ninja Gaiden is just hard as nails. I think Castlevania is pretty darn tough, too. I think they get compared so often because of the trial and error aspect of some of the stuff. Think "Medusa Heads" and "Eagles." You'll see.. (I think AVGN did a review of Ninja Gaiden and pointed out how the designers put enemies in certain places to make sure you never get comfortable, and when you start playing, say, about 3-4 stages in, you'll agree.)
Grant strikes again! I replayed Castlevania 3 and it was sweet! I like the improvements and additions, but the original still tops it because I feel the difficulty in 3 can sometimes be unnecessarily hard. To the point where it takes a way from my enjoyment in some places, rather than adding to it Still, I'd probably put it at number 5 or 6 here.