Released in 1986, the Nintendo Entertainment System—or NES, as it’s so often called today—was the best-selling video game console of its time. Although its simplistic graphics have gone from great to bad to charmingly retro over the past thirty years, one fact remains the same: there are a lot of great games on the system.
Everything from Legend of Zelda to the original Super Mario Bros makes the NES a revolutionary platform. Whether you’re revisiting old classics or experiencing it for the first time, these are the best NES games of all time.
Super Mario Bros
This is the game that started it all. Counting all of its ports and re-releases over the years, the original version of Super Mario Bros has sold a staggering 40.2 million copies, making it the single best-selling Mario game of all time.
In fact, as the flagship title of the NES, Super Mario Bros represents more than just a fantastic platformer that grew into a franchise: it represents the revival of the video game industry as a whole. It was definitely considered one of the best NES games of its time. Following the 1983 video game crash, the NES brought the floundering industry back from the brink, and Super Mario Bros helped drive sales of the system.
The Legend Of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda was the first of the series to grace any console and brought with it many of the beloved enemies: Moblins, Lynels, and even Darknut. It also birthed the forever-famous line, “It’s dangerous to go alone. Take this.”
If you have never experienced The Legend of Zelda, you owe it to yourself to dive in and save the kingdom from Ganon and his misuse of the Triforce of Power. As you explore Hyrule for what may be the first time, make sure to search for secrets: the game is loaded with them, an element that would go on to become a staple of the series.
Metroid introduced the first half of the two-gameplay formula that would become Metroid-vanias. It’s the classic formula of starting out weak and exploring a huge world in search of more weapons and abilities that will allow you to reach previously-unreachable areas, overcome bosses, and complete the game.
Samus starts out with just her beam weapon and goes on to find well-known powerups like the Morph Ball and Bombs. The NES version of Metroid also introduced the recurring boss characters of Ridley and Kraid.
The second half of the winning Metroid-vania combination, Castlevania is a challenging platformer that has Simon Belmont exploring Dracula’s Castle in search of the evil vampire. While it doesn’t have all of the same elements as later titles in the series, it sets the standard for the core gameplay that would continue in every iteration to come.
Something worth noting is that the original Castlevania is available on the NES Classic, as is Metroid. If you like Metroidvanias, try out the two games that started the genre.
The NES Final Fantasy was, like so many others on this list, the first of a massive franchise. The game was released in 1987 and spawned the series that so many people love today.
However, the name has something of a unique story behind it. Supposedly, Square was on the verge of bankruptcy, and the launch of Final Fantasy was their make or-break game. If it didn’t work out, the company would have to shut its doors.
Clearly, that didn’t happen, and now Final Fantasy stands as one of the best NES RPG games of the era. It features turn-based combat, different roles for different characters, and many elements that were before their time.
Kirby’s Adventure isn’t the first Kirby game, but rather a sequel to the Game Boy title Kirby’s Dream Land. Kirby’s Adventure improved on many of the best features of the first and introduced Kirby’s signature move: sucking up enemies and copying their abilities.
This was also the first game to show Kirby in color, which surprised many people; no one knew he would be pink, especially since the original Game Boy game was in black and white. Kirby’s Adventure has players fight across 41 levels in 7 different worlds.
Contra was a run-and-gun top-down shooter known for its nonstop action and brutal difficulty, but also for one other, truly classic element: the Konami Code.
For those that aren’t familiar, the Konami Code (Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A) granted players an additional 30 lives to help them overcome the exceedingly high chance they would lose during a Contra run. And since Contra was played in a day before save states, ‘game over’ meant starting from scratch.
No list of the best NES games would be complete without the original duck-hunting light gun game. The premise is simple. Ducks fly across the screen and you take aim and shoot them out of the sky with the attached peripheral. The downside? If you miss, a way-too-snarky dog laughs at your failure.
It is also multiplayer, a fact many people do not know. The second controller maneuvers the ducks! Of course, light gun technology requires a CRT television to work, so you will need to find an older TV in order to play today.
The Mega Man series is another long-running franchise that saw its start on the NES. The Blue Bomber faced off against Dr. Wily and his Robot Masters in level after level of platformer-meets-bullet-hell action. Each Robot Master drops a new ability, and this ability is the weakness of another boss.
Fighting the enemies in the right order results in a much easier game, but Mega Man can be completed in any order. It’s a great way to experience many of the original gameplay elements that are still present in the Mega Man series today.
What do you consider as one of the best NES games? Did we forget a title that deserves a mention? Let us know in the comments below.