The Nintendo Switch is just a few weeks from release. In honor of Nintendo and all that it’s brought to the gaming world, The Life of Gaming has decided to count down the top 10 games from each of Nintendo’s home consoles. Be sure to check back each week and see if your favorite game makes our list!
Today, we start where it all began – the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Nintendo defined home console gaming in 1985 (1983 in Japan) with the release of the Nintendo Entertainment System. The home console also introduced the world to the gamepad, which featured the first D-Pad. Some people still consider the NES the greatest console ever made, and who can blame them? Selling over 60 million units, the Nintendo Entertainment System captured a generation of kids who are still gamers today. Here is our list for the top 10 games on the NES…
10) Tecmo Bowl
Released: February 1989 Publisher: Tecmo Developer: Tecmo
Before FIFA became a world-wide powerhouse, 2K defined basketball, or Madden became a household name, there was Tecmo Bowl. Tecmo Bowl, developed by the Japanese company Tecmo, was first released in the Arcade. A few years later, Tecmo ported the game to Nintendo Entertainment System, becoming the first console game in history to feature real NFL Players.
Tecmo Bowl on the NES supported 2-player multiplayer and featured a paper-rock-scissors style of play-calling. On offense you would choose from 4 plays. On defense, you picked from the same plays, hoping to match what the offense chose. If matched, you would have a better chance at a sack or loss of yards. (Unless, of course, you were playing against Bo Jackson. In that case, there was nothing that you could do.)
Tecmo Bowl has been part of both the Wii and Wii U Virtual Console, as well as being one of the 30 games available on the NES Classic. It is clear that it is one of the best games on the NES.
09) Bionic Commando
Released: December 1988 Publisher: Capcom Developer: Capcom
Nintendo introduced the world to Jumpman….also known as Mario. Capcom decided to take the 2D side-scrolling platform in a new direction with Bionic Commando. The catch here is that you can’t jump. Today that doesn’t sound like much of a stretch, but after the success of games like Mario and Mega Man, making a game where you couldn’t jump was a huge risk. The good news is, it paid off for Capcom.
Bionic Commando never got a proper sequel on the NES, but did receive a downloadable remake in 2008 on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, and PC, Bionic Commando Rearmed (which had its own sequel in 2010). Bionic Commando is still to this day one of the highlights of the NES library and remains revolutionary in it’s simple approach to platform without the ability to jump.
Released: September 1989 Publisher: Capcom Developer: Capcom
“Life is like a hurricane, here in Duck Burg
Race cars, lasers, aeroplanes, it’s a duck blur.
Might solve a mystery, or rewrite history!
Duck Tales…..Woo Ooo”
The sound of my childhood…
If you were lucky enough to grow up in the 80’s, then chances are you were singing along. For the uninformed, DuckTales was a cartoon series that followed Huey, Dewy, and Louie, Donald Duck’s nephews; who were sent to live with their rich great uncle, Scrooge McDuck. Think of it as Indiana Jones meets The Highlander, but staring anthropomorphic ducks. Amazing, right?
During this time, the NES was starting to get more and more licensed games (when licensed games were actually good). At the same time, it just so happened that Capcom wanted in on the action. With that in mind, they decided to make a video game adaptation of DuckTales for the NES. Children, the world over, rejoiced!
DuckTales was a 2D side-scrolling, platformer where players would take control of Uncle Scrooge as he went on various adventures to gain gold and, to no ones surprise, treasure. Oddly enough, it was made famous for it’s inventive use of Uncle Scrooge’s pogo-powered cane. In the show, Uncle Scrooge is an older man who walks around with a cane, so, in the game, that same cane was turned into a Pogo-Stick-esque weapon that Scrooge could use to defeat enemies and open up new areas. There aren’t many licensed games that are considered classics, but DuckTales was one of the very best games from the NES Library.
Released: November 1984 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo
Excitebike was unique in many ways. It was equal parts racing, strategy, and creation. One of the first racing games on home consoles, Excitebike put you in the seat of a motocross driver, jumping hills and swerving mud to finish 1st.
As simple as Excitebike is to play, there is a lot of strategy to this modest title. First, when you jump a hill you can press left or right to angle your bike in the air. If you land with both tires level with the ground, you will get a boost.
Second, there is strategy with the overdrive button. As you hold it down, you will go faster, but the risk is that your “TEMP” meter will rise. If it gets too high, you risk overheating your engine.
Finally, if you run into any other racers, you will roll to a stop, causing you to have to remount your bike and lose precious lap time. The depth to this game could be lost on the casual player, but true fans knew just how great Excitebike was.
06) Mike Tyson’s Punch Out
Released: October 1987 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo
Mike Tyson’s Punch Out remains one of the greatest puzzle games of all time. Wait, did I say puzzle game? It’s clear from the name, Mike Tyson, that Punch Out!! is a boxing title, but there is much more depth than meets the eye.
Originally released in the arcades as Punch-Out!!, Nintendo decided to brand the game with Mike Tyson when it was ported to home consoles. The story is fun, but won’t win any awards. The game follows “Little Mac”, and his journey to becoming the heavy weight boxing champion of the world.
The gameplay is what sets Punch Out!! apart, and what still makes it unique today. At it’s core, it’s a puzzle-based boss-rush, with each boxer having specific attacks and tells. They each had their own rhythms and patterns that the player would learn, and only once these patterns were mastered could you stand a chance.
After Nintendo lost the rights to the Mike Tyson name, the game was re-branded back to Punch-Out!!, and replaced Mike Tyson with “Mr. Dream” (or as he’s humorously referred to, “White Tyson”). To this day, Mr. Dream remains the crown jewel of gamers achievement crowns, as he is, undoubtably, one of the hardest bosses ever seen in video games.
05) Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse
Released: September 1990 Publisher: Konami Developer: Konami
There is a whole genre of games identified by a single moniker – “Metroidvania.” While both Castlevania and Metroid originated on the NES, it was their sequels that really raised the bar. In the case of Castlevania, that game was Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse. To put it in perspective, the first Castlevania was a very linear platforming game, while the Castlevania II was a full-on action game. Castlevania III, on the other hand, took the strong platforming of the original and removed the linearity.
In Dracula’s Curse, you play as Trevor Belmont on his journey to kill Dracula. However, this wasn’t a simple quest. You could find up to 3 assistant characters, make choices that would lead to one of the games multiple endings, and choose from multiple paths to complete the game. While Castlevania was the original, Dracula’s Curse is the one that lives up to its”Metroidvania” namesake.
04) Mega Man 2
Released: December 1988 Publisher: Capcon Developer: Capcom
It’s hard for a non-Nintendo developed game to be considered a pillar for a Nintendo Console, but Mega Man is that pillar. We have already mentioned several other Capcom games on this list, but it was the Mega Man series that stood head and shoulders above the rest. While the first game was praised by critics, it didn’t find an audience when it released in 1987. That came the next year, when the team released the sequel, Mega Man 2, which improved every single aspect of the first, and went on to become the best-selling game in the franchise.
The premise is simple enough. You choose to fight 1 of the 9 bosses, jump and shoot your way through their level, defeat the boss, and take their power. What makes it stand out is the precision in controls, the amazing audio and level design, and the grueling difficulty. There isn’t a better game on the NES that’s not made by Nintendo.
03) Super Mario Bros.
Released: September 1985 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo
The game that started it all.
In 1985, Nintendo changed the world with a fat little plumber in overalls, who jumped on walking mushrooms, and traveled through warp pipes. Super Mario Bros. is a game that defined a generation. 30 years later, we are not only still playing Mario levels, but we’re also making them.
What can really be said about Super Mario Bros.? You run from left to right, stomping turtle ducks, riding flag pools, and saving princesses. The game was the brilliant design of Shigeru Miyamoto. It was original, unique, and played pixel-perfect.
To this day, I live by one creed, and that’s “Gameplay is King”. That all started with Super Mario Bros. There wasn’t a better feeling game to play at the time, and it’s still a benchmark for how games should be made.
02) The Legend of Zelda
Released: February 1986 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo
The Switch is arriving in just a few weeks, and the showcase title at launch is The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Breath of the Wild looks to finally harken back to our number 2 game, the original Legend of Zelda. LoZ starts with Link in the middle of this amazing, bizarre land, and just let’s the player explore. You can tackle the dungeons as you find them, you can roam the map with no sense or direction, and you can get lost in the vastness of Hyrule.
The Legend of Zelda can be divisive for some because of it’s open-ended nature. The Legend of Zelda Series has become known for it’s lore and story, but if you go back to the first game, it’s mostly vacant of both. In fact, there are only a handful of people that you even speak to. LoZ was more about exploration, with the story simply being the player’s experience. It’s hard to quantify just how important The Legend of Zelda was, not just to the NES library, but to video games in general. It is still considered one of the very best games ever made, and rightfully so.
01) Super Mario Bros. 3
Released: February 1990 Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo
My original goal was to only allow one game per series on this list, but I couldn’t make an NES list without mentioned both Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3. If Super Mario Bros. defined a generation, then Super Mario Bros. 3 REfined it. SMB3 improved on absolutely every area of the original, while also being faithful to what made the first work so well. After taking a side-step with Super Mario Bros. 2, Nintendo went back to what worked – Running left to right, kicking turtle ducks, and saving princesses.
If the release of a new Super Mario Bros. game wasn’t enough for fans, Nintendo unveiled the game in the 1989 film, “The Wizard.” SMB3 was an instant hit, and went on to become one of the best-selling games of all times. To this day, you normally have 2 camps of fans: the Super Mario Bros. 3 camp and the Super Mario World camp. No matter where you fall, you can’t deny that Super Mario Bros. 3 is, without question, the best game that every graced the Nintendo Entertainment System.
There you go, the 10 best games on the Nintendo Entertainment System. Do you agree? Is there a game we missed? We’d also love to see a list of your favorite NES games. Sound off in the comments below!