The NES was an amazing, groundbreaking, peach tree of a system, but choosing a mere 86 games to champion over the rest was a sweat-less task. The system is overrun with atrocious movie games, pathetic unlicensed abominations, and titles so foul that merely mentioning their names causes physical pain to those who’ve experienced them. As a result, great-to-good-to-decent games always stuck out like a different-colored cartridge. A good game’s presence was so welcomed by me, in fact, that I likely overrated a few along the way. So it goes. I was always overjoyed to play something of worth, especially when I wasn’t expecting it.
Bad games are (usually) not what we remember a system by, nor do we judge a system based on the amount of crap it produced during its lifetime. Nobody looks back on Robodemons or Wolverine or 720° and thinks, “Man, the NES was a pile of dump;” if they did, we’d probably ostracize them from the community or at least give them the shifty eye. Indeed, 30+ years after its American release, the NES is regarded in high esteem for its treasures, both obvious and hidden. The following games on this list are treasures; subjective treasure, perhaps, but treasure nevertheless.
I welcome discussion and differing opinions. In fact, I imagine that many of these choices will seem strange to those who stumble onto this particular list without first reading through the site. I assure you that these Top/Bottom lists are consistent with my views during the quest. Any games you consider to be ranked “low” weren’t ranked that way just because I like to rouse the retro gaming community with my unorthodox viewpoints, or, God forbid, to boost the site’s page views. Feel free to read my original reviews linked within the titles below. If you’ve been following the site for some time, my choices for the top 86 games shouldn’t surprise you. If you haven’t been following, surprise! I’m not the biggest fan of The Legend of Zelda.
If this Top 86 list accomplishes anything besides needless bickering, it’s to bring attention to the under-appreciated, unrecognized gems in the NES library. Yes, I love Contra and Super Mario Bros. 3 as much as the next guy, but I also love Adventures of Dino Riki and Shatterhand – sometimes even more than “the classics.”
Now, without further ado, Questicle proudly presents…
The Top 86 NES Games, Forever and Ever, Amen – Part 1
#86 – Track & Field
One of the few track-and-field titles not to require Nintendo’s Power Pad, Track & Field is a button-masher for the ages. Olympic glory and the Ultimate High Score are yours to aim for in eight distinct events. You’ll be playing at least seven of ’em until calluses form around the buttons. Gross, addictive fun.
#85 – Bee 52
Codemasters filled the “bee simulation” void in the NES marketplace with Bee 52. Who knew that pollinating flowers and filling up honey jars could be so fulfilling. By the same token, who knew how obnoxious rotating sprinkler heads could be. The overall game is an endearing, sympathetic look into a bee’s humble existence. May Bee 52 and his bumble brethren never disappear.
84 – Pro Wrestling
Forget all the WWF/WCW licensed dreck: Nintendo’s own Pro Wrestling is the one to root for. The blend of realistic and ridiculous, coupled with tight controls and a bevy of character-specific moves gave this the slight edge over Tecmo World Wrestling. Both games have what it takes. Pro Wrestling just wanted it more.
83 – Gauntlet
Primitive, nearly-impossible dungeon looting at its finest. While the NES port doesn’t provide the 4-player experience found in the arcade, taking one friend along is better than grindin’ solo. Even with a friend, your ever-dwindling life will ensure that you die again and again before you escape with your treasure intact. All part of the gold-grubbing experience.
82 – Super Spy Hunter
Boy, did that first Spy Hunter game suck. As the Super Nintendo proved, however, adding a ‘Super-” prefix to the front of any game title makes it at least 8-bits better than before! Super Spy Hunter keeps the race/shoot formula of the first game, while adding purpose, value, and impressive visual trickery not normally found on the NES. The “Super” moniker was certainly not wasted.
81 – Battletoads
Level 3 of Battletoads: you conquered it with time and practice and went on to play an amazing varied beat-em-up; or it conquered you through repetitious beatings and you never wrangled with the Toads again. Your ability to handle vehicular abuse (particularly with another player) will determine your love for this well-intentioned Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, er, “homage.” At least we can all agree that levels 1 and 2 are awesome.
80 – Felix the Cat
Felix and his bag of tricks are up to their old, uh, tricks. Felix the Cat doesn’t impress with over-the-top presentation, but his transformations liven up the standard hop-and-bop platformer. “Look, Felix is in a car! Now he’s in a tank! And he’s adorable! Hudson Soft, take my money!”
79 – Power Blade
Boomerangs aren’t just for Australians anymore! In Power Blade, Nova’s boomerang (he calls it a “blade,” but let’s face facts) destroys everything it touches, including Nova himself if he’s not careful. Excellent controls, action-packed music, and the redemption of the boomerang as a weapon? You’d be a sissy not to play.
Capcom steps out of their Disney/Mega Man comfort zone to produce Little Nemo, a quirky adventure game where you enslave animals by feeding them candy. Sound morally reprehensible? All fears will be allayed when you see Nemo in his adorable pajamas! If you’re still skeptical, shove some candy into your gob. You’ll see things Nemo’s way soon enough.
Contra‘s two characters are great, you say? Let me introduce you to G.I. Joe, a Contra-like game where you choose up to three selectable characters from the G.I. Joe roster, all with unique abilities. Contrais hard, you say? You need to beat G.I. Joe three times just to see the true final ending. Contra is still the better game, you say? Alright, I’ll give you that. Just don’t call Duke and the boys schlubs. Strong men also cry.
Konami finally got the turtle soup mixture right for The Manhattan Project. It retained the beat-em-up formula from Turtles II, while adding enough flourishes (fighting on surfboards? Radical!) to keep the game from becoming stale. Turtles II may have been a great arcade game, but Turtles III is the best of the NES trilogy.
75 – Shatterhand
When you discover that the power in your hand can demolish large metallic columns, you can be sure that you’ll never touch yourself inappropriately again. Such is the premise (kinda) behind Shatterhand, the action game that asks you to smack the world upside its head. As a bonus, you also conjure robot friends to aid you in your destruction. Aggressive and brutal, Shatterhand wins in just about every way.
74 – Zanac
If my sources are accurate, this is Cliffy B.’s (from Gears of War fame) favorite game. I definitely don’t love it as much as he does, but I understand his infatuation. It’s the only shoot-em-up on the NES to offer variable difficulty. The harder you fight, the more the game throws at you. If you hold back, so does the game. The trick is finding the balance between overwhelming firepower and too-cautious restraint. The power-ups are pretty BA too.