Best NES Games

The Top 86 NES Games – Part 4

The very best the NES has to offer.





#25 – R.C. Pro-Am II

Ok, so the four-player mode isn’t as awesome as I initially thought in my review. It doesn’t matter: R.C. Pro-Am II is still the best racing game on the NES. Intuitive controls, “tricking” your “ride” with nitrous and lazers, and twenty-four unique tracks make for a bomb diggity of a good time.

24 – Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy feels simple and pure. Future games in the series would get bogged down by broken battle systems, obnoxious characters, and stupid stories. The original remains in its own self-contained universe, untarnished by the series’ bi-polar legacy. Customizable characters, a vast world, and non-stop combat was all Square needed to set their fortunes right and change the RPG landscape forever.

23 – Batman

For as much as an 8-bit game can, Batman really places you in the Caped Crusader’s shoes. You have access to his gear, you can wall jump, and beatings occur up close and personal. The backgrounds are gritty, the challenge is brutal, and the music is so epic, it could start a riot in the most conservative of Midwestern towns. Batman don’t want no scrubs.

22 – Adventures of Dino Riki

Caveman shmups are a rare breed. Dino Riki tops them all – and many of the system’s other shmups, besides – with its relentless oog-boog action. Few shooters force you to pay attention as much as Dino Riki does. The sense of satisfaction that occurs after you beat a level is worth it, though.

21 – Castlevania

Few games on the NES whipped up the perfect blend of atmosphere, music, and gameplay as well as the original Castlevania did. And does. Like Dracula himself, this first game in the series has aged remarkably well. Sure, we’d all like for Simon not to fly backwards when he gets hit, but if that’s the price we pay for near-perfection, I’ll take it.

20 – Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

Sorry, Mr. Dream. Give me Mike “Ear Chomper” Tyson any day of the week. Punch-Out!! is less a boxing game than a series of timing exercises, but that doesn’t detract from the sense of accomplishment one receives after belting down a strong opponent. As a “Little Mac” myself (not so much in size, but strength), getting to the end of Punch-Out!! continues to feel like a personal victory.

19 – Contra

For those who grew up on its beatings, re-visiting Contra is always bittersweet. It’s an amazing game, but damn, does it treat you bad. Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start gives you thirty lives and a fighting chance to beat the game’s eight balls-hard levels. Two-players help diffuse the madness, but only a tight headband and an 80s butt-rock mix-tape help you see the game through.

18 – Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos

The Ninja Gaiden series provided a cinematic scope rarely found in NES games of its day. It’s the cut scenes, the rollicking soundtrack, the varied environments – but mostly, the cut scenes. The lighting, the mood, the atmosphere, and the direction are still first-rate. Ninja Gaiden II is a top-shelf action game in its own right, but I doubt I’d remember it as fondly today without dem cut scenes.

#17 – Kid Icarus

I must enjoy masochistic games more than I originally thought. Kid Icarus might be Nintendo’s hardest game ever, but it’s also one of their most rewarding. So many distinct features here: password, leveling up (pre-Zelda II), progressing vertically instead of horizontally. It takes time getting accustomed to Pit and his adventure, but that’s because “the kid” is so distinct.

16 – Guerrilla War

SNK brought over-the-top crazy to the NES long before Metal Slug was a glint in their eye. Guerrilla War is the most insane action game you’ve never played: save prisoners, roll around in tanks, collect ridiculous power-ups, shoot everything. Unlimited continues aren’t pansy: they’re a necessity. Guerrilla War is the gaming equivalent of loving the fresh smell of napalm in the morning.

15 – Super Mario Bros. 2

Eat your damn vegetables or else, Wart! Super Mario Bros. 2 brought Princess, Luigi, and Toad alongside Mario in a surreal platformer that wasn’t even a true Mario game. Princess could float, Luigi could flail, and Toad could… well, we love Toad. Many consider this their favorite among the three NES games. I wouldn’t go that far, but re-skin aside, it’s a first-rate Mario game.

14 – River City Ransom

The beat-em-up would never again be as dynamic and fully-formed as it was in River City Ransom. The fighting is first-rate, while the RPG elements are seamless. The different city gangs and the shopping strips make River City feel like a place people live instead of a mere background prop. Learning new moves via books while gobbling down a bowl of Spicy Chili is one of RCR‘s many pleasures. Truly a king among games.

13 – Dragon Warrior IV

Few JRPGs made narrative a strong focus before Dragon Warrior IV. After the game’s release, however, narrative no longer took a back seat to combat in the genre. Each of the first four chapters focuses on a different character’s story before the final fifth chapter brings all the characters together to stop the evil Necrosaro. The NES never saw such grandiosity again.

12 – Super C

From the review: “If Super C was a piece of beef, it would be a wagyu Kobe, the finest of the fine. The action contained within the game is pure, raw, and most importantly, overwhelming while remaining navigable. Every furious moment, from the traditional waves of enemies to the more extravagant death-filled set pieces, makes the player feel alive. Navigating between scores of bullets whilst laying to waste dozens of enemies from every corner of the screen is ecstatic gaming that has rarely been replicated in this current generation. It’s an honor to partake in Super C.”

11 – Mega Man 3

Mega Man 3 feels like Mega Man 2’s tormented brother. Whereas the latter embraced a lighthearted, optimistic feel, MM3’s graphics, music, and overall tone are more somber. Thankfully, the robot-busting, power-sucking gameplay is as fresh and lively as ever. You can make Mega Man depressed, but he’ll still get the job done. ‘Cause, you know… he’s a robot.

10 – Life Force

Whether careening down a fire-infested corridor or blasting the charred bone off the head of an endoskeleton, Life Force never fails to surprise, enlighten, and terrify. Two-player co-op, vertical and horizontally scrolling levels, and a bevy of weapon upgrades are but a few reasons why Life Force is the ultimate NES shmup.

9 – Double Dragon II: The Revenge

River City Ransom has style and personality to spare in its beatdowns, but few games celebrate good times (c’mon) like Double Dragon II. For my money, the ultimate two-player co-op experience on the NES. The amount of hours I spent/wasted trying to beat this game with numerous compadres over the years can not be measured. Find yourself a friend and crack some skulls… together.

8 – Adventures of Lolo Trilogy

I’m stunned that Lolo has yet to make a comeback. His cute, squatty design and curiously complex puzzle adventures seem ripe for re-imagining. Until then, I’ll continue to sink my teeth into his trilogy of NES games. I know it’s cheating to include all three games as one entry, but they do seem less like sequels than continuations. The first game is perfectly balanced, the second one ramps up the difficulty, and the third entry adds a world map that Lolo can roam around, but they all retain the same block pushing, bubble blowing, Lolo squealing gameplay. No self-respecting NES fan should deprive themselves of the NES’ second greatest trilogy.

7 – Galaga: Demons of Death

I’m not the biggest fan of old arcade games that focus more on point accumulation over objective completion. That being said, Galaga has just the right amount of depth to suck me in, time after time. Shooting aggressive spacebugs never gets old, and recovering your ship after it’s been captured for double fire-power is one of the great rewards in gaming history.

6 – Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

Castlevania III is one of the greatest platforming games on the NES not because it’s unique, but because every single element of its design is flawlessly executed. Branching paths, multiple characters with different skills and strengths, and beautifully rendered gothic landscapes put the series on firm footing after the ambitious, but vague second entry.

5 – Destiny of an Emperor

Destiny of an Emperor mixes the battle system of Final Fantasy with the history lessons of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The result is pure zang! What separates Destiny from other RPGs and Koei strategy games is its accessibility. Fight generals in random battles, then recruit them in the local towns. The battles are an engaging blend of melee and tactics, while amassing an ever-increasing army of generals (150 to recruit, 70 to travel with, 7 in your main battling party) is more addicting than one might think. The best RPG on the NES.

4 – Little Samson

Little Samson takes a young warrior, a dragon, a golem, and a rat and throws them all together into a platforming game. It shouldn’t work, but it does. Once you’re able to switch between the four characters, experimenting with their strengths and weaknesses in the game’s seventeen levels is enthralling. The unadulterated joy one receives from playing Little Samson can not be overstated. An absolute, unsung classic.

3 – Super Mario Bros. 3

Super Mario Bros. 3 set a new standard for the platformer, Nintendo as game makers, and gaming as a whole. Remember seeing Grass Land in its entirety for the first time? Six levels, a mini-castle, a Toad House, and a regular Castle seemed overwhelming! Not only that, but there were eight worlds, each more devious than the last. Two years in development well spent, I’d say.

Like any long-established classic, the praise for Mario 3 can seem hyperbolic, particularly if you weren’t alive upon its release. The haters might say, “Yeah, it’s a good game, but it’s not that good, right?” Well, unless you’re a hipster drowning in PBR and ironic self-loathing, Super Mario Bros. 3 really is that good. Even if you weren’t alive to appreciate its initial significance, playing Mario 3 can make you feel like a kid again. Few games command such power.

2 – Mega Man 2

If any game could be defined as a labor of love, Mega Man 2 is it. After the disappointing sales of the original game, Capcom only agreed to a sequel if the developers worked on other projects alongside it. Every person involved in Mega Man 2, from Rockman/Mega Man creator Keiji Inafune on down, worked on it in their spare time. No easy task.

All those weeks of sleepless nights were worth it. Mega Man 2 is a no-doubt-about-it masterpiece. It had an incalculable influence over the action platforming genre and on millions of gamers worldwide, including myself. The intro cinematic is goosebump-inducing, the soundtrack is one of the grandest in gaming history, and the gameplay remains exciting and fresh, despite the overabundance of Mega Man games throughout the decades. The Blue Bomber will never have a game as engaging as Mega Man 2, but so what? We should be thankful he was allowed to come this far.

1 – Super Mario Bros.

From Part 1 of my review: “Super Mario Bros. invented (for all rights and purposes) the side-scrolling platformer, a genre that would come to dominate the 8 and 16-bit generations of systems. Each of the Mushroom Kingdom’s thirty-two stages were singular creations that felt breathtakingly vast compared to any game of the time. The Kingdom’s denizens – Goombas, Koopas, Piranha Plants, Bullet Bills, Bowser – made it feel like a functioning world, whether Mario was present or not. And who could fathom the amount of secrets the Kingdom contained upon going through it for the first time? 1-Ups were carefully concealed. Some pipes led underground to riches, some shot climbable plants upward to the heavens, while still others went nowhere. You could walk on the ceiling of certain stages, bypassing them altogether. Outrageous! There were warp zones and, one of the best glitches of all time, The Minus World. The game’s star Mario – the former blue-collar worker turned fantastical hero – was the ultimate protagonist. He could run like an Olympic sprinter! He could spit fire from his hands! He could jump higher than flagpoles! No wonder the Princess wanted him to save her. Within his flabby plumber physique was the soul of a champion. Super Mario Bros. was the must-have experience of the mid-Eighties – and it was only available on the NES.”

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30 replies on “The Top 86 NES Games – Part 4”

Love that Double Dragon II made it in the top 10! Such a great game! Couldn&#039t agree with you more on your top 10 either! Great list! Great reviews! Can&#039t thank you enough for doing this. You&#039ve brought hours of vicarious entertainment to me. I look forward to your next project! Bravo!

Just for fun, I went and made up a list of my own top 86 NES games. Obviously mine looks a bit different than yours (partially because I cheated and included a few Japanese games I&#039ve played), but we&#039ve got the same number one and share two other games (Life Force, SMB3) in the top 10.

Odd list… Blaster Master deserves a place on everyones list. Gremlins 2 and Rygar too…

I prefer Crystalis and Startropics 2 over both Zelda games. They are less cryptic on what to do next.

Puzzle games wouldn&#039t even sniff my top 86… boring….

Weird that you put THE worst NES baseball game on the list, but you also mentioned the best(Baseball Stars). Blades of Steel is one of the best sports games on the system and easily pisses on most other sports attempts on the system. Tecmo Bowl is great but it was horribly unbalanced. Whoever worked at Tecmo must&#039ve been huge Giants and Raiders fans. Lawrence Taylor and Bo Jackson are unstoppable and it&#039s kinda considered cheating if you picked those teams. Super Tecmo Bowl fixed that and added real teams, I believe.

Nobody can disagree with Number one. It&#039s the game that defined the system(and Nintendo) and singlehandedly brought videogames back from the dead. And it will still be infinitely playable and fun 50 years from now, the true definition of a timeless classic….

Gremlins 2 is great. Rygar and Blaster Master… meh.

Didn&#039t get the hype over StarTropics at all, though I did like 2 over 1. I&#039ll admit I need to play Crystalis again.

Haha, you&#039re talking about Nintendo&#039s Baseball, right? Brother, it&#039s not even close to the worst baseball game. Try Bo Jackson and Roger Clemens&#039 games. Those are absolutely terrible.

Super Tecmo Bowl did fix some things, but I prefer Tecmo Bowl. Even I&#039ll admit that&#039s a little strange.

Thanks for reading and disagreeing. It livens up the comment section.

Would definitely say to give Crystalis another try. It may not be quite as puzzle oriented as Zelda, but I personally love the game on account of how fluid and fast-paced the action/combat feels, especially in comparison to other action RPGs of its time. There&#039s also something very intuitive and fun about the magic spells you gain along the way, not to mention the awesome power-ups you gain for your swords once you obtain their respective bracelets. Just a well thought out game overall if you ask me, although it does have it&#039s cryptic moments like many other NES games (although not to the same level as Zelda, as FieryReign said above).

It is nice to see Destiny of an Emperor on this list. I have always had a facination of the Three Kingdoms era. I don&#039t think I would put it so high on the list, but it is definitely a more accessible game than the Koei attempts. Nice to see some of the lesser known titles on your list. I was unaware of some of them (or of being good), and will need to give them a shot (Guerrilla War, Adventures of Dino Riki, Nightshade, Firehawk, Pinball Quest, Bee 52)

Super Mario Bros. is number 1 and of course is well deserving. Where would we be without those 2 jolly plumbers?! And YES! I agree! Where is Lolo? He SHOULD make a comeback! That game used to piss me off (damn Medusa) but I just kept playing. I couldn&#039t get enough Double Dragon II was my favorite of the 3 as well. I thought Contra might be little higher up, but we will agree to disagree on something. Great 86!!!

I&#039m not surprised at the top 3 although many would switch Mario 1 and 3&#039s places. But as big as Mario 3 is, I can understand the significance of Mario 1 especially given the video game crash of 83.

Nice to see Little Samson up high. I&#039m not sure where I&#039d place it myself though, but it&#039s definitely one of the better platformers for the NES.

Nah, it&#039d probably be some dense Koei game. Life imprisonment, bro! It&#039s gotta last me awhile!

Super Mario 1 is legitimately one of my favorite games of all time, though, so its placement will remain.

I was just curious. It goads me when people rank games based on their influence (see: Pong) rather than their enjoyment. It appears you&#039re the one person I know who still gets that much enjoyment out of that game.

Fantastic Questi(cle)on Beau. And does that question get a different answer than “if you only had one hour left to live and could only play a NES game for that hour, which would it be–SMB 1?” Tough choices for tough times.

My life in prison game: Final Fantasy I.
My electric chair game: Mega Man 2.

And what&#039re yours Beau? Dylan? Other peeps?

BTW: Love the fresh take on the top NES games list–a lotta old faces dug up, spit-shined and gleaming. And your writing has gotten sharper and more hyrularious. Second Quest me up. But seriously, no love for the Blaster Master? He&#039s the master of blasting! And somebody&#039s gotta save that poor frog! I&#039m going into the sewer right now!

Great list! Questicle is awesome! We use it when we play NES games to add some fun.

My life in prison game is also Tecmo Super Bowl. Well chosen. The Vikings can finally win the Super Bowl! My electric chair game? R.B.I. Baseball. I can&#039t get enough of those pudgy fuckers.

Clumsier_outhouse, what of the other outhouse? Why is it more coordinated? Please elaborate…

Nice list!
While I have played many of the 86 games in your list of the top 86 games, I have not played all of them. I definitely would like to try several of them, including Little Samson. [ Unfortunately, it&#039s quite expensive. 🙁 ] I do miss seeing Blaster Master & Crystalis on this list, because they are great games, but I respect your decision. I also agree with you that the Lolo games are just great!

Toad had the ability to pull up stuff out of the ground quickly in Mario 2. A plus when pulling coins for slot machines at the end of levels and getting out of quick sand. He was actually my favorite player to use in that game. CrAzy legs luigi would screw up my jumps, princess flying always felt like cheating and she was horrible when pulling stuff from the ground and Mario was too average.

All I can say is Castlevania, Castlevania, and more Castlevania I and III, I are the best games ever for any platform nevermind NES, started playing Castlevania in 1989, Got my daughter into it now…..I looked online, they even have T-shirts!

Glad to see that two of my favourite games- Double Dragon II and Super Contra have made it to the list! The Castlevanias, Ninja Gaidens and Mega Men were expected in the Top 20, but Super Mario Bros rightfully got the top spot.

bit late to the party, but good list. I'm an old nintendo junky with over 500 games still at my parents house so i own and have played most of these. Some games I would have added, World Cup Soccer, Dusty Diamonds All Star Softball, the Guardian Legend, Rampart, Balloon Fight and North Vs South. Good list all around though. Glad to see the great Wrecking crew on there, and River City Ransom.

Only two I was surprised you really disliked were Day Dreaming Davey and California Games.

Always good to talk old school Nintendo. Time to go check out Little Samson.

Good to see a list that puts Destiny of an Emperor near the top .. it is rarely mentioned anywhere but is by far one of the greatest games on the NES.

This is my top 10, hopefully you’ll like it, but surprisingly SMB1 didn’t make it

10. Blaster Master
9. Double Dragon II: The Revenge
8. Contra/Super C (LifeForce is great too)
7. The Legend of Zelda
6. Bionic Commando
5. Castlevania
4. Super Mario Bros. 3
3. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!
2. Mega Man 2
1. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

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