I bought one of the first Nintendo systems and brought that home, and we were playing ‘Legend of Zelda’ at the time, and it was addicting, and I was playing it for hours and hours and hours.
It’s Day 4 of our Console Challenge, NPCs, and today is going to be a real treat.
When I first began recruiting for participants for this month-long event, reaching out to those I personally felt were best suited to the consoles which remained after our team of mages had their lion’s share, I decided to contact the renown Richenbaum Fotchenstein (Duke a la Von Mister… just kidding, I made that up). Richenbaum’s first response after looking over the roster was “Has nobody really picked the NES yet?” That was when I knew this person had to be a part of this project.
The NES is one of the most influential home consoles in video game history, having saved the North American market after its crashed, ushering in an era of quality control, possessing its storied library of games, creating new icons that are still with us thirty years later, blah blah you know the rest. The NES seems to be the one console that nostalgia won’t let anyone forget about, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
So I let me proudly present to you Richenbaum and his luxurious list of Top 7 best NES games. Be sure to let us know what your list would look like for the top NES games in the comments below and if you haven’t already, check out Richenbaum’s work at Virtuanaut and follow him on Twitter @Richenbaum.
Now you’re playing with power.
-The Well-Red Mage
We all have that special system in our lives. That first true gaming love for the first system we owned, the likes of which no other future system would ever quite be able to overcome. For me it was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Sure, there were other games first, like that one cousin with an Atari or when I’d find an arcade game out in the wild that I may or may not have been successful in begging for some quarters for, but there was something different, something magical about having this ability to play video games in your very own home (at least back in the prehistoric days before even our toasters had games on them).
Little did I know that the NES would become an even more iconic powerhouse than I could ever have imagined, with a massive library of games that’s just bursting with essential hits to the extent that I still play many of them, and still haven’t caught up on all of them, to this very day. I could go on forever about all the amazing games on this thing, but The Well-Red Mage told me that if I didn’t calm down and limit myself to only seven he’d declare Twitter war on me, so here are my seven choices for what I believe to be the finest games on the system!
Sometimes it’s the simplest games that turn out to be the most effective, and Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out is sure a great example of that. I’ve never cared for sports or sports games, but Punch-Out is just so well-designed and fun that it seems to transcend all genres.
There’s just something so satisfying about the simple two-button combat against an outlandish bunch of enemies, each with their own unique personality and fighting style. It’s one of those games that you can just pick up at any time, play in short bursts, and never really get tired of it even though Mike Tyson will almost certainly slaughter you yet again in the end.
Of course this list has Zelda on it, because how could it not? Even over 30 years later Zelda is still right up there alongside Mario as one of Nintendo’s flagship franchises, and justifiably so. These days, the original may not stand alongside other Zelda titles that most people generally regard as the best ones in the series, but its iconic place in gaming history is undeniable and it still holds up pretty well despite how noticeably clunky it is compared to its successors.
Archaic as it may be, The Legend of Zelda still has an impressively large world and equally large assortments of creative items and monsters. The first exploration of the strange land of Hyrule is still capable of bringing about that Nintendo brand of joy and wonder, and the nine deadly dungeons still feel delightlfully treacherous and spooky even today. Just make sure you bring a good map (or some paper to make your own)!
#5. Ninja Gaiden
Who doesn’t love ninjas? Well, their victims probably. I suppose that in a way Ninja Gaiden is much the same. It’s well-respected and cool, but at the same time also the source of a lot of childhood gaming trauma. This was one of the hardest games around in 1988, which is really saying something with how tough many games used to be back then. It had that certain quality to it, one that you’d probably compare to Dark Souls today (yep, I went there), in that it was sadistically difficult, yet it was just so damn cool and well-designed that you couldn’t put it down no matter how many dozens of times you died.
Ninja Gaiden immediately assaults you with a barrage of increasingly outlandish thugs and monsters, as well as some pretty tricky platforming bits, and it never lets up. In fact, it just gets exponentially worse the further you get. The enemies get nastier, the amount of pits that are strategically placed to get enemies to knock you right into them increases, and the bosses really mean business. Luckily the gameplay is fun enough, and the presentation high quality enough, that all the pain feels worth it. The enemy/boss variety, visual design, high-end cinematic sequences (for their time), and absolutely amazing soundtrack all come together to make this an unforgettable game no matter how many ragequits it might cause.
Before there was the game I’d call the ultimate classic Mario title, Super Mario World, there was Super Mario Bros. 3. While Super Mario World was a more technically and creatively impressive game, it wouldn’t exist without the foundation that Mario 3 laid down. This was easily the biggest, most ambitious platformer of its time, with eight uniquely themed worlds that were just bursting with content. From the intricately designed, secret-packed normal levels to the deadly mini-boss fortresses, to the treacherous Koopa kid airship stages at the end of each world, this was just a massive piece of high quality Nintendo design.
In fact, its size is probably its only weakness due to the baffling lack of a save feature. It seemed nearly impossible to get through the whole thing in full linear order without resorting to at least one warp whistle. Still, that didn’t stop it from being such a hugely fun and iconic game. The introduction of a world map, goofy powered costumes, non-linear level design, flight, and many other odd and delightful little features made this a true classic and an essential part of the long history of the Mario Bros.
#3. Castlevania 3
The Castlevania series was a staple of the NES generation, but it wasn’t without its flaws. The first game, as iconic as it was, was too brutally unforgiving to be fully enjoyable. The second one seemed to swing too far in the other direction in reponse, making the enemies and bosses far too easy, and added some very interesting, but very flawed, light RPG elements into the mix. Then Castlevania 3 came along and mashed together most of the best bits of the first two, resulting in a much more consistent and enjoyable game.
It’s a tough game, but not painfully unfairly so. With eighteen unique stages and bosses altogether, it was the biggest Castlevania by far. It also had multiple playable characters, multiple branching paths to reach the castle, and more sinister, spooky creatures to whip into shape than ever before.
#2. Mega Man 2
You’ve probably all heard by now that Mega Man 2 is the greatest of the Mega Man games, and this is absolutely true. While I think the first Mega Man is better than most people give it credit for, it was a bit rough around the edges in some areas, especially with it being yet another early NES game that was too long to finish in a reasonably-sized single sitting, yet had no password or save system. Mega Man came back with a vengeance in Mega Man 2 though, and ended up being a nearly perfect game.
Simple, yet great boss designs like Flash Man, Quick Man, Metal Man, and yes, even Wood Man helped make this entry in the series amazing, as each of their stages was so perfectly stylized to match their personal theme. The level design was so colorfully creative, and each one was filled with a whole new set of fascinatingly unique creatures to fight. It was a big step up from the original Mega Man, whose levels and enemies all felt a bit too similar and limited. The later Dr. Wily stages and their bosses also felt a lot better designed, and that final Dr. Wily battle was a very fun and unexpected encounter indeed.
Like the other games on this list, Mega Man 2 also had an amazing soundtrack. It’s not just the best, most memorable soundtrack of any Mega Man game and one of the best on the NES, it’s probably one of the greatest video game soundtracks of all time. Just listen to this track and try to tell me otherwise:
And finally we reach #1, which naturally goes to Contra. Contra is not only the single greatest NES game of all time, it’s one of the greatest video games of all time in general. I would argue that Contra is a truly perfect video game. Each of its eight stages offers a perfectly-sized unique area with its own special set of deadly traps and hazards, as well as having some of the most unforgettable songs and boss fights ever experienced in a game.
The controls are so tight and accurate, and the combat is so very satisfying with the telltale ping of your shots hitting their target and the way bosses would change color as their health dropped, before vanishing in a delightfully crunchy 80’s explosion. Every level (well, except those two corridor levels that are basically the same) just feels so different and alive, with the environment, and the challenges that each contain, shifting so frequently that the game never feels repetitive.
It’s just a non-stop barrage of quintessential 80’s action/sci-fi kinetic energy that never seems to get old no matter how many years pass or how many times I play it. The short length probably goes a long way towards this too, as it becomes increasingly hard to find time for all the games we want to play, it’s hard to refuse a quick game of Contra when it only takes a single hour at most to re-experience.
One more thing worth mentioning is that the NES version of Contra is a very rare breed of game where the home version was actually vastly superior to the arcade game it was based on (in fact, I can’t think of a single other case of this happening on the NES). The arcade version of Contra may have had superior graphics, but the NES version somehow still managed to outdo it at every turn. The controls were much more tight and responsive, and the music and sound effects somehow ended up sounding better on the NES’s more limited hardware. The levels in the NES version were also significantly longer and added a lot of new sections and bosses that weren’t there before, including the famous waterfall boss from above.
Before I go, because I know someone is now thinking it, I’d like to pre-emptively disclaim that as much as I love what the Metroid series would go on to become, and as much as I acknowledge its iconic roots on the NES, I just find the original NES Metroid too clunky for it to make it into the top 7. Consider this an honorable mention at least.
So, thus concludes my list! I hope you enjoyed it and if you’re still thirsty for more you can check out my companion piece: Console Challenge Day 4: Top 7 best NES games! (Alternate obscure game version!) http://virtuanaut.net/2018/06/04/console-challenge-day-4-top-7-best-nes-games-alternate-obscure-game-version/
Thanks for reading!