The Nintendo Entertainment System is one of the best home video game consoles ever made, no questions about it.
Its success played a huge factor in the revival of the gaming industry, following the infamous market crash in 1983. Most of the general public viewed video games as a children's toy; a mere distraction for kids and kids only.
The NES broke that mold early on, with classic adventures that resonated with both children and adults.
Nintendo is now known as a company that pushes boundaries, invents new control styles, and is a fixture for family-friendly gaming. The NES proves that this has been at the center of Nintendo's philosophy since the company's inception.
The console had a staggering amount of games, and although some of them are mediocre or downright bad, a good portion still stand as excellent gaming experiences.
Picking my top ten NES games was a daunting task, and many of my absolute favorites failed to make the list.
However, it's undeniable that these ten games paved the way for new genres, new gaming experiences, and will go down in history as some of the greatest interactive media of all time.
Without any further ado, here are my picks for the top ten NES games of all time.
10. Bubble Bobble
It's funny to me that after all these years, an arcade port managed to end up on this list.
The NES had an enormous library of great games, and many of them were exclusive to the system. However, fans hungered for home versions of their favorite arcade titles, and Taito's Bubble Bobble sticks out in my mind as one of the best.
The game centers around twin dragons Bub and Bob, both who possess the ability to shoot bubbles out of their mouths. You can play the game alone, but Bubble Bobble is best played with a pal.
You and your friend attempt to beat 100 levels full of enemies, platforming, and precision.
Although the game can be quite tough at times, it was fun for players of all skill levels. The controls were simple; navigate your cutesy dragon and tap a button to shoot bubbles.
The end goal of each level is to capture all the enemies in bubbles and defeat them.
Once you've bubbled an enemy, you could pop them quickly, or even bounce off them for higher jumps. The gameplay was simple, yet addictive.
I have only managed to complete the game a handful of times, but the fantastic gameplay kept bringing me back for more.
Not only was the gameplay fun, but the stages were memorable. Each level was a self-contained single screen, and clearing enemies moved you onto the next.
Levels were identifiable by more than just their number, usually being themed or featuring certain enemies. I still remember the level shaped like a giant heart and the colorful and unique items you'd pick up for more points.
Everything about Bubble Bobble is lighthearted and fun, and being a cooperative game with nearly infinite replayability amps up the quality even more. If there's any game on this list that will be contested, it's probably Bubble Bobble.
However, those who grew up with the game (be it on NES or arcades) will be able to perfectly understand why it deserves a spot.
Excitebike launched with the NES when it released in 1985, making it a title that many people owned by default.
Despite the high quality of the launch lineup (the system launched with 17 games), it seemed like most owners gravitated towards Excitebike and Super Mario Bros.
Picking either of these games was a surefire bet (more on that later), and Excitebike looked as cool as it sounded.
Excitebike had two main modes of play; solo or versus computer controlled characters. The ultimate objective was to rise to the top at the championship, earning your placement by finishing tracks in a certain amount of time.
The tracks were full of obstacles that would slow you down, and jumps that propelled you into the air.
The controls were simple to learn as well; you could accelerate, lean forward and backward on the bike, and change lanes to avoid obstacles.
Each race was thrilling, demanding both speed and precision if you wanted to win. Adding in computer controller opponents gives the game another boost in difficulty, as your opponents functioned as another way to slow you down.
Crashing into them and falling off your bike would add plenty of unwanted seconds to your end time, making it a more frustrating mode of play. I preferred this, though.
Computer controlled opponents added a good element of randomness, something I enjoyed once I had memorized a track's layout.
The mode that truly elevates Excitebike (for me, at least) is “design mode”; a rudimentary track builder.
You could choose the length of the course and place obstacles to your liking, crafting fun and often extremely challenging levels.
I fondly remember creating levels for my brothers and friends, challenging them to see who could complete them. I'm pretty sure Excitebike was my first taste of user-generated content, which is an aspect of gaming I very much adore.
The ability to make custom tracks ensured almost endless replayability, and every time I found myself playing my NES with friends, Excitebike custom tracks were always good for some fun.
8. Hogan's Alley
When you think of light gun games and the NES, the first thing that comes to your mind is probably Duck Hunt.
The franchise has seen inclusion in modern Nintendo series like Super Smash Brothers, and remains recognizable to this day.
I owned Duck Hunt, as did most NES owners, and although I enjoyed it quite a bit, I had way more fun with Hogan's Alley.
Although you used the NES Zapper peripheral to play both Duck Hunt and Hogan's Alley, the two games felt very different.
Duck Hunt was more family-friendly and represented a wacky side of sport hunting.
Hogan's Alley was gritty and realistic, placing you in a dingy back alley populated with criminals. The objective was simple; shoot the criminal cutouts targets, but don't shoot the innocent hostages.
After a few rounds, you'd play a bonus game that involved blasting tin cans with limited ammo, wherein you attempted to land the cans on platforms with point values.
Hogan's Alley has also been featured in some modern Nintendo games, even getting its very own appearance in a few Super Smash Brothers titles. However, I feel like the game is vastly underrated and the popularity of Duck Hunt has a lot to do with being included as a bundle with Super Mario Bros. Duck Hunt felt very much like a simulation.
It was fun but calculated and simple to play.
Hogan's Alley had a level of tension to it, with the more realistic targets and alley environment. Alongside Duck Hunt, it was one of the first games to ever use a light gun for a controller.
As an attempt to replicate the arcade experience more associated with light guns, I think Hogan's Alley is the NES' best effort.
Considered a holy grail of cooperative action gaming, Contra is a game that everyone should play at some point in their life.
It popularized the “Konami Code”, a universal cheat code button combination that appeared in many games developed by Konami.
In Contra, it would give you a large supply of additional lives, which you would definitely need if you ever hoped of beating the game.
Knowing the Konami Code would win you big points on the playground, and being able to progress far in Contra without using the code was an achievement in itself. Brutally difficult but incredibly fun, Contra deserves its spot on this list and its spot in cooperative gaming history.
Like many NES games, Contra played out in a side-scrolling manner; you and your partner would constantly move towards the right side of the screen to progress.
Enemies are placed all around the levels, firing bright bullets that kill you in one shot.
The entire game is incredibly tough, and besting it requires lots of skill and practice. Knowing where enemies, when and where to pick up new gun power-ups, and being generally excellent at the game are prerequisites for success.
The game's gun power-ups are just as iconic as its difficulty, and fighting over the spread shot power-up was a common occurrence in my cooperative play sessions.
Contra was also great to look at, and each level was unique in gameplay and look.
Some levels reinforced the platforming aspect of the game, while others are a complete spray of bullets.
There's a method in the madness though, and like any finely-tuned challenge, it can be mastered and exploited with enough practice.
It's a super popular game in the speedrunning community, and the numerous sequels and spin-offs prove Contra's overall popularity and staying power in the industry.
Metroid kicked off one of Nintendo's longest running series when it released around the world in the late 80's.
It broke new ground in the action/adventure genre, and eventually spawned a new sub-genre known as “Metroidvania” (the latter half of the word coming from the NES titan Castlevania). It defied expectations on a gameplay and narrative level, and subsequently gave us one of gaming's first female lead characters.
There are many reasons Metroid is one of the ten best NES games ever, and you can see the result of those reasons embedded in gaming history.
For starters, Metroid crafted a dense and noticeable atmosphere; one that felt as lonesome and foreboding as it did exciting and adventurous.
You play as Samus Aran, a powerful galactic bounty hunter. You're sent to the home base of a group of Space Pirates, who experiment on alien creatures known as metroids.
Their intent is obviously evil, and it's up to Samus to save the day.
Metroid played like many other action/adventure games, revolving around gaining power and defeating enemies using a variety of weapons and upgrades.
However, Metroid shakes up the formula by opening up its world. Certain abilities can open up previously inaccessible areas, forcing players to backtrack and revisit old locations. This adds a layer to exploration, encouraging players to take note of blocked off areas and currently unusable passages.
The mix of a tense atmosphere and memorable level layouts makes Metroid an engrossing and immersive game, not to mention a surprising one.
Metroid is also well known for breaking apart the stereotypes associated with women in games.
Samus stays hidden under a thick suit of armor for the entire game, only revealing her identity at the end. The fact that Samus is a woman blew many gamer's minds, and it redefined the expectations on what female characters could and should be.
Samus remains one of Nintendo's most popular characters, appearing in games like Super Smash Brothers and (after a long hiatus) receiving new entries in the series on modern consoles.
It all started with the original Metroid, which thankfully took some chances and came out the other side as an instant classic.
Although many people have played Punch-Out!!, it's probably most well known due to how few people can beat it.
This boxing game is well remembered for featuring boxer Mike Tyson as a final boss (in one version of the game), and he remains one of the most punishing bosses in video game history.
Like most great NES games, Punch-Out!! is simple to learn but hard to master, and whether you're a boxing pro or can barely throw a punch, the game is incredibly fun to play.
You play as Little Mac, a relatively tiny boxer with determination and fire in his heart.
You face opponent after opponent, each one with their own gag or gimmick. Your arsenal is simple; you simply have your fists and the ability to duck and weave.
Punch-Out!! plays very different from a normal fighting game, resembling something closer to a puzzle game than anything else.
As you climb the ranks from boxer newbie to world-class athlete, you'll have to break down each opponent's fight patterns and habits.
Opponents usually give a “tell” before they perform attacks, be it a nod of the head or a wink and smile, there's usually some sort of indication before a punch flies your way. Knowing these tells and how to punish your opponent is key, as you won't get very far by button mashing.
Although they might be seen as slightly insensitive by today's standards, the cast of opponents in Punch-Out!! are purposefully varied, representing the best fighters from around the world.
You'll go toe-to-toe with a flamboyant Spanish man named Don Flamenco, a tiger-striped Indian man named Great Tiger, and more.
The unique patterns of each opponent combined with iconic moves and tells make each fighter memorable and distinct.
Punch-Out!! was popular when it released in arcades, but the home console version on the NES boosted its popularity to unseen heights.
4. Super Mario Bros.
You might be surprised that of all games, Super Mario Bros isn't at the #1 spot.
There's a reason for that, but it doesn't diminish the legacy the massive influence this game had on the industry.
If the NES was the lifeboat that saved the gaming industry from going under, Super Mario Bros was the paddle that propelled it to new places. Its entertainment value is universal and its appeal is as wide as it is profound. When you say Nintendo, Super Mario Bros immediately jumps into mind.
Mario might be gaming's most recognizable character, and besides his lovable mustache, it's mostly due to the insane quality of early Super Mario games.
I hardly need to explain what Super Mario Bros is and how it plays, as I'm sure anyone who has heard of video games knows about Mario and his sidescrolling platforming antics.
I think the strongest part of Super Mario Bros. are its controls, and more specifically, the tightness and responsiveness of them.
Watching Mario bound from platform to platform is hypnotic and fluid, and it's very easy to get sucked into the experience. Before long, levels become muscle memory.
Experimentation leads to unexpected secrets like warp pipes and power ups. Every aspect of the game feels polished and designed, and is tuned to reward breakneck speed and cautious progression.
For as iconic as the characters and visuals are, the audio effects and music are arguably more iconic.
The theme song to Super Mario Bros penetrates nearly every form of media, appearing in a vast amount of other games, movies, and performances.
It's not uncommon to see a talented orchestra play the Super Mario Bros theme as a lighthearted gag, and its instantly recognizable. Besides being incredibly catchy, there's a consistent quality in the audio that never wavers.
Many argue that Super Mario Bros is perfect, and while I don't agree with that completely, I do believe that it's a perfect representation of what the NES set out to do.
It's entertaining regardless of age or skill level, contains insanely memorable music and visuals, and has a cast of characters that are personable and timeless.
Super Mario Bros is not only one of the best NES games, but one of the best video games of all time. Its influence can be seen in nearly every modern video game to this day, no matter how small.
3. Mega Man 2
The NES was the birthplace of many franchises, and Capcom's Mega Man series managed to squeeze out six titles before moving onto newer systems.
In my opinion, Mega Man 2 is the best in the series (and possibly the best Mega Man game ever), but I'm sure many people will disagree.
Perhaps that's a reason I find Mega Man so charming; many people feel so strongly about the series.
The general concept is intriguing enough to grab your attention. A robot boy named Mega Man attempts to squash a team of robot bosses, absorbing their powers upon defeat. Each robot boss is entirely unique, and their stages reflect that unique nature.
Because of this, some people might prefer one game's batch of bosses and weapons more than the other, but one thing remains consistent; the quality.
Like Super Mario Bros, Mega Man 2 feels perfected in nearly every way.
It's a bit tougher on the player than a game like Super Mario Bros, but the inherent challenge of the series is an added bonus for me.
Mega Man 2 is one of the easier games in the series, and while it still has its tough moments, I think it strikes the perfect balance between challenge and progression.
Like any Mega Man game, you are free to tackle the bosses in any order. A big part of Mega Man is figuring out what order you'll want to complete the levels in.
Bosses are weak to certain weapons, and you'll always want any advantage you can take.
I always start by beating up Bubble Man, but I always appreciate the option to deviate from my normal order. Experimenting with different weapons is an entertaining affair, and you'll often discover that weapons are good for more than just additional firepower.
Mega Man 2's stages mix platforming and action together in an engaging way, and devilishly placed enemies constantly keep you on your toes.
The action is backed by a killer soundtrack, and many of Mega Man 2's tunes are just as recognizable as the Super Mario Bros theme.
In fact, music is a huge part of the Mega Man series legacy, and Mega Man 2 holds some of the series' best tracks. The colorful stages keep things interesting at all times, and Mega Man 2 often plays on your expectations in some interesting ways.
Each level feels fresh and new, each enemy feels thought out and designed with purpose.
Every NES owner has a favorite Mega Man, and for me, that's Mega Man 2.
However, I could easily see the original Mega Man and Mega Man 3 on this list as well.
2. The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda did for adventure games what Super Mario Bros did for platforming games.
It's easily one of Nintendo's most recognizable franchises, only bested by the man in the red hat. As I said in the introduction, the NES was popular with more than just kids, thanks to its fantastical worlds and solid gameplay.
The Legend of Zelda was hugely popular with kids and adults alike, and opened up a portal into a new world.
The game felt like a true adventure; you started off in the middle of nowhere and played as a weak but hopeful young boy. It existed in a time before the internet, and easy-to-access game guides, so completing the Link's adventure involved a lot of exploration and discovery.
Once you grabbed a sword from the old man in the cave, you were free to head off in any direction you'd like.
The game opened up as you invested time in it, and the world of Hyrule felt dangerous and exciting. The Legend of Zelda did a great job rewarding exploration with even more stuff to see.
Finding dungeons and completing them felt like a monumental task, but taking the time to explore would often reveal items that made life a bit easier.
Bombs, arrows, magic, and more were all waiting to be discovered, and at the time, it felt like The Legend of Zelda had just about everything.
A game so large could barely be completed in one sitting, so Nintendo instituted one of gaming's first save systems.
This allowed players to turn off their console and resume play at a later time, a feature that usually required lengthy passwords. This made The Legend of Zelda a great experience for players with limited free time.
The ability to save and resume pushed players towards experimentation, another aspect that The Legend of Zelda fully embraced.
Dropping bombs near certain walls would reveal hidden passages, shortcuts, and valuable items. It felt like a fully realized world, and the adventure inside that world was top notch.
The Legend of Zelda is one of my favorite games ever made, and like Super Mario Bros, has a lasting influence on the gaming industry and pop culture at large.
Like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter, The Legend of Zelda's fantasy setting made it seem larger than life, and transported players to a new world perfect for exploration and adventure.
1. Super Mario Bros. 3
For as fun as the original Super Mario Bros is, Super Mario Brothers 3 takes everything and ramps it up to unbelievable levels of fun and quality.
It took every lesson that Nintendo learned during the early NES days and executed on them, providing a nearly flawless experience.
It also helps that the game was surrounded by a level of hype so thick you could taste it. Super Mario Brothers 3 pushed itself into the eye of the mainstream public more than any other game had done before.
It was on every child's Christmas list that holiday season, and every gamer eagerly awaited its release.
Nintendo fueled this hype with huge marketing campaigns, including the 80's movie The Wizard, which is basically one long advertisement for Super Mario Bros. 3.
In many ways, Nintendo was promising a perfect sequel to an already perfect video game, and it was hard to believe that the end product would deliver on those promises.
Super Mario Bros. 3 sits on the top of this list because it delivered on those promises, and then some.
The differences between Super Mario Brothers 3 and the original Super Mario Bros were immediate upon starting the game.
Instead of being thrown into a level, Mario appeared on an overworld screen, where you moved from tile to tile, entering a level and then moving on once you beat it.
Worlds now had various branching paths, and you could even run into enemies on the overworld map. Different level types were introduced, including puzzling castles and frantic airships. Tons of new power ups littered the game, and many of these new items became staples in the franchise.
Thanks to the overworld screen and a healthy amount of color and personality, each world felt more unique and varied than before.
Levels would contain hazards and gameplay features exclusive to that world; a menacing sun might harass you in the desert world, and so on.
Each level felt more like an experience and less like a collection of obstacles and platforms.
Super Mario Bros. 3 took the perfect gameplay of the original and injected it with even more color and personality.
The music was just as catchy as ever, and the background of unique and varied world designs made the experience that much more memorable.
Everything about Super Mario Bros. 3 was bigger and better. The enemies, the level designs, the hidden secrets, the power-ups, and even the fun factor.
It took a game that we viewed as perfect and improved upon it; a feat that many said was impossible. Super Mario Bros. 3 was a power play by Nintendo, and it showed off just how talented the team of developers were.
You could feel the passion of the game's creators in every nook and cranny, and it played like a dream.
I returned to Super Mario Bros. 3 and played it through to completion recently, and its still an incredibly impressive game.
Like The Legend of Zelda, it's a timeless adventure that's still as effective today as it was 30 years ago.
It's an experience that speaks to the very essence of why we play games, and it revels in the joy it creates.
Even now as Mario games reach unseen levels of popularity, Super Mario Bros. 3 stands as a fierce contender for the best Mario game ever made.
It easily sits at the top of this list, and many might argue that it sits at the very top of all gaming lists.