Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List #100-90
Arguably the most beloved console of all time, the Nintendo Entertainment System, commonly abbreviated as NES, is now well over 25 years old. With over two thousand games produced worldwide for the legendary hardware, the NES, despite its age, has an eternal staying power. As retro gaming continues to grow in popularity, more and more gamers flock to Nintendo’s first home console to get their gaming fix.
To help these gamers out, I’ve decided to focus my energy to create a comprehensive top 100 NES and Famicom game list. Yes, there are already plenty of NES top 10’s, top 25’s and even top 100 lists all over the net. So why should you care about my top 100 list?
My aim here was to make a unique list that goes beyond simply my picks and my thoughts about them. This list was carefully crafted based on my experience of well over seven hundred individual titles for both the NES and Famicom. My criteria for this list was based on three factors – Overall appeal, uniqueness, and how well each have aged.
This list will include every kind of software ever written for the hardware, whether it be NES, Famicom, unlicensed, prototype, homebrew or Hong Kong original pirate – if it was sold in some forum, it’s fair game for this list. The only type of games I have excluded are hacks of existing games. While many of these are incredible, I may at some point in the future write a separate list for these alone.
Of course, with a system like the NES which saw well over 700 titles in North America alone, there can never be a true definitive top 100 that will be universally true for all players. The bottom line is this list is merely a collection of my opinions, so feel free to disagree and tell me what you’d add in your list instead. For those who may be interested in tracking down copies of the games I mention, I am including a general price range for loose carts and what I am calling the NES difficulty meter.
Since many NES games can be a real test of player’s patience and skill, I am ranking every game on its overall difficulty using a simple scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is brain dead easy and 10 is….well, Battletoads. A 5 on this scale means it’s average difficulty with perhaps some challenging elements, but nothing the average gamer should get stuck on for too long.
I’m also including many links to videos and other online information sources. Links are indicated by orange words. Please open these links in a new tap/window so you don’t have to navigate away from this article.
So without futher ado, I hope you will enjoy the Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List!
Duck Hunt is a shooting simulation where the player goes out with his faithful dogs to hunt ducks. It requires the use of the Nintendo Zapper light gun plugged into controller port 2. In game modes A and B, players view a swampland from a first-person perspective. The player’s dog scares ducks out of the swamp, causing them to fly about in the air. The player has three shots and a limited amount of time to shoot the ducks before they fly away. Each round only allows a limited number of misses in order to move on successfully. As the rounds progress, the ducks begin flying faster and faster, and fewer misses are allowed.
Mode C features target practice on clay pigeons rather than ducks. The perspective and rules here are the same, with only three shots to destroy two clay pigeons before they disappear off the horizon. Destroy enough clay pigeons to move on to the next, tougher round.
Ask anyone who grew up with the NES about their favorite memories, and you’ll routinely hear about long hours spent playing Duck Hunt, the quintessential lightgun game that put all lightgun games on the map of popular culture. Even now amongst the motion-controlled games of today, the impact of Duck Hunt can still be felt as long time fans continue to scratch their heads why there isn’t a modern update or remake of this classic title.
Why you should play it:
The experience of playing Duck Hunt is a retro one in every sense. The tactile feel of the Nintendo Zapper in hand [or Famicom Gun], the iconic spring-loaded echo the trigger produces and the fact that the technology of the Zapper relies on playing on an oldschool CRT television are merely the appetizers to the main course Duck Hunt serves up anyone willing to venture back to the 8-bit Nintendo. It’s so simple a small child can figure it out, yet it is so engrossing and fun that seasoned players will be drawn to play it endlessly. Even for those who have shot their ten millionth duck or pacifists against animal cruelty, the clay pigeons mode is still a unique and challenging way to hone one’s retro lightgun skills.
While the iconic dog cannot be shot in the version most of us are familiar with, Retro Zone offers a custom reproduction of the VS Arcade cabinet version of Duck Hunt which allows this. Are you a bad enough dude to buy another version of Duck Hunt so you can shoot the dog?
Duck Hunt actually has a kill screen - If the player manages to exceed 99 rounds, the 100th will appear to be level 1, but the Duck’s sprites will begin to glitch and the targeting algorithm for shooting the ducks will not activate, thus making it impossible to progress beyond this point. Also, although stated in the manual, many players remain unaware of a semi two player option where the second player is able to veer ducks across the screen using the d-pad on the controller. Try it out!
Destroy different enemy tanks while trying to keep them away from your base. When you have destroyed 20 enemy tanks you advance to the next level with different layout. In each level there’s some obstacles which you can use to your advantage. Obstacles include red bricks which you can shoot out of your way, silver bricks which are highly armored, water and ice. You start the game with a basic tank, which you can power up to better one little by little.
The game includes a construction mode, so you can make your own levels when you have played through all the 35 original levels.
Why you should play it:
Battle City is a very simple game but a ton of fun. Basically an expanded take on the Atari 2600’s pack-in game Combat, the premise of defending a base from an onslaught of tanks with occasional power ups was and still is pretty cool. Coupled with the fact that the entire game can be played coopertively with a second player and that there’s a level editor that allows players to make whatever kind of stage they like, Battle City stands as one of the best early examples of NES multiplayer gaming. Although a Famicom exclusive, this one pops up on just about any bootleg multicart out there and shouldn’t be too difficult to find.
After pressing start on the titlescreen, you can choose what level you’d like to start on by simply holding down the A button until the desired number appears.
It’s the year 2777. Due to nuclear wars and natural disasters, Earth’s population has decreased dramatically and only five island are left, forming the nation of Xexyz. In Xexyz, humans, spirits and faeries have lived peacefully for centuries under the reign of King Xeu Star. One day, Xexyz is attacked by Goruza who murders the king, builds mechanical castles on each island and captures the queen of each island. You take on the role of a soldier named Apollo who wants to put an end to Goruza’s reign.
Apollo, is tasked with freeing all five islands. Freeing an island is done in several different phases that feature both platforming and auto-scrolling shooting sections. The first level of each island contains many doors to shops, bonus games, friendly NPCs or mid-bosses. NPCs will sometimes give you important hints, items or weapons; bonus games can be played to win some money (“E-Balls”); defeating mid-bosses (and thereby freeing a Fairy) will get you a cash reward and shops also offer weapons and items. Weapons differ largely in attack power and range. Items have temporary effects such as invincibility or improved jumping abilities. In an island’s first level, you will have to find a secret room and defeat a boss, for which you will receive a Force Star that is needed to gain access to a mechanical castle where the boss of each island reside.
Xexyz is an interesting game to be sure. The only way to describe it is like Gradius but a little worse, and like Monster Party but better. As you alternate between auto-scrolling shooter and platforming segments, you’ll encounter all sorts of shops, captives and other weird inhabitants of the various islands of Xexyz. This a very Japanese game and went right under the radar of most of us oldschool gamers. If the idea of mixing platforming and shooting sounds appealing, you can’t go wrong with Xexyz. It’s definitely bizarre.
As Popeye, you are trying to win Olive Oyl’s love! She is at the top of the screen dropping tokens of her love, and you need to collect them before they hit the ground. After you have collected the required number of items, you can move on to the next, more difficult level. There are many obstacles trying to stop you from completing your task. Brutus wanders around the screen and is constantly trying to catch you. If you collect a can of spinach, you can temporarily knock him out, similar to the Power Pill in Pac-Man or to some extent the POW Block in Mario Bros. Other objects such as skulls, bottles or birds are also flying around the screen. Each level features a different layout of platforms and ladders, and will have you collecting different items as they float towards the bottom of the screen.
Why you should play it Released as a Famicom launch title on July 15, 1983, Popeye is among the oldest games for the system, and although it was built to showcase the graphical power of the Famicom, comparing it to other, later games is a true testament to how deeply later developers were able to tap into the hardware. On it’s own, Popeye is among the very best conversions of the arcade, surpassing excellent versions on the Commodore 64, Collecovision or Atari 8-bit computers. It’s an arcade faithful fun time with very high replay value.
When developing Popeye, Shigeru Miyamoto would watch the Popeye cartoon, stop frame by frame, and draw each frame by himself to assist him in developing the game and designing the graphics. This examples the unusual quality of animation present in Popeye compared to many other of Nintendo’s early efforts.
In StarTropics, you play the part of Michael Jones. Mike’s uncle (Dr. Jones, a famous archaeologist) is on C-Island looking for some lost ruins and has invited Mike to come visit him. However, shortly after arriving on the island Mike learns from Chief Coralcola that Dr. Jones has recently been abducted! Now it is up to Mike to locate Dr. Jones and find out why he was abducted.
StarTropics is an action game with adventure and light role-playing elements, played from an overhead point of view. Starting out with just an island yo-yo, Mike will need to search the island for Dr. Jones. The villagers may be able to offer some clues, there are many dangerous enemies to defeat, and along the way there are a variety of new weapons and other items to be found which will help Mike on his quest. The cartridge uses a battery backup to allow games to be saved.
Why you should play it
StarTropics was specifically made with the North American gamer in mind to get this market interested in the RPG genre. In fact, there is no Famicom counterpart of StarTropics at all. Instead of heavily focusing on level grinding and dungeon exploring, StarTropics instead largely followed the example laid out by the successful Legend of Zelda. Once you leave the grid-based overworld, Mike can move about and attack enemies in very much a Zelda-style game. StarTropics has many unique aspects and cameos of other NES games, making it well worth a playthrough.
StarTropics was one of the first (and only Nintendo game) to use an immersive article exterior to the game itself as a crutial part of completion of the game. in StarTropics, this took the form of a letter written by Mike’s Uncle Dr. Jones, which came packaged in the retail game. The letter was made of a special parchment paper that would react to water. If the player did this, it revealed a secret message and the number “747” that must be used in the game in order to advance. This ensured that used copies of the game couldn’t be completed without prior knowledge of the code. The sequel, StarTropics II Zoda’s Revenge was released in March of 1994, making it one of the last NES games ever released.
Somewhere in the galaxy, a huge alien space creature known as Parasitis travels between realms digesting it’s pray. It’s latest victim is the planet Abadox which is now consumed by the alien entity. However, in order to digest this planet, Parasitis has had to assume to form of the planet itself. Abadox’s starfleet, the World Alive Force (WAF) uses this time to launch an all out assault on the alien lifeform, of which you are a single soldier.
Some have said Abadox is so similar to Lifeforce that Natsume’s game is a complete rip-off of Konami’s. While there are unquestionably similarities and direct influences, Abadox is also a unique shooter that brings plenty new to the table as well. Where Lifeforce alternatves between traditional horizontal and vertical shooter stages, Abadox does the horizontal stages as you’d expect, but when Abadox switches to vertical, it takes the unexpected turn of scrolling down. To my recollection I can’t think of any other shooter that’s ever done this. Abadox is a lengthy game that’s incredibly difficult, despite outfitting the player with weapon upgrade capsules up the wazoo. Abadox is actually best played with the NES Advantage – this is one of the few games where the turbo fire Start button really comes in handy.
High above New York City a helicopter explodes. Aboard the craft was a vaccine to a top secret CIA developed biological weapon called “Cassandra G”. When the vaccine and plans to develop the bio-weapon are not found amongst the wreckage, but a single M-16 shell is, the CIA concludes the copter was shot down by world’s best assiasian-for-hire, Duke Togo, aka “Golgo 13″. The CIA conclude Golgo 13 must be league with one of America’s enemies, possibly the KGB.
However, the CIA is soon informed by their secret operative “Fixer” in East Berlin the affair is far more serious, as the copter incident was the work of a KGB backed secret plot of the remnants of the Nazi Empire of West Germany.
After the dispatch, the representative disappears. The situation becomes more and more mysterious. A man who calls himself Condor agrees to help “Fixer”. In East Berlin, because Condor has received some information on Cassandra-G, the CIA, KGB, and even DREK are threatening his life
Upon a request from “Fixer”, Golgo-13 has gone into action. He is to get information on a vaccine from Condor and eliminate the leader of the Nazi revival group…
Golgo 13 is an incredibly varied game that is as ambitious as it is a product of it’s time. To play through it is to be reminded of how divided the world was for nearly all of the 20th century, Although be warned – TSE is one of the hardest games out there. The game tries to throw as many frustrating oldschool gaming traits as it can at you: you’ll occationally be lost and wondering where to go or what to do next, enemies are tough as nails, health packs are few and far between, gameplay styles change without explaining anything, and the 3D mazes lack maps save for the ones you draw yourself (or look online for).
Despite being released in the height of the Nintendo censorship years, Golgo 13: TSE managed to be released in the west with minimal censorship. Only scenes of nudity, like the screenshot above, were censored. All the other sexual content, blood, graphic violence, smoking and drug references remain intact. Not even Nintendo wanted to fuck with Duke Togo!
A scientist is researching bio-genetics in hopes to develop a serum that can biologically engineer animals to become smarter and help mankind. He makes a breakthrough in his research, but when a drug cartel discovers the news of the scientist and his serum, they kidnap his and his family leaving only their pet monkey, Naughty, behind. Distraught and angry, Naughty drinks the serum and transforms into the Bio Force Ape.
Bio Force Ape is among a small handful of games that was canceled prior to it’s completion and has actually been discovered and released online. The surfaced protoype version only contains three levels of roughly 35 minutes of total gameplay, but keep in mind that the prototype is unfinished and would have been built upon and improved before its final release who unfortunately never came.
Why you should play it
Bio Force Ape is one of the most unique games for the NES. It’s similar to Sonic the Hedgehog in terms of it’s overall speed and pacing, but also has aspects of beat ‘em ups like Double Dragon and puzzle inspired elements too. Easily the fastest paced game on the NES, Bio Force Ape’s focus on speed showed how developer Seta really tapped into the hardware to produce something special. Naughty is incredibly animated and the bizarre enemies that he defeats using pro-wrestling moves is something that needs to be seen to be believed.
For more information on Bio Force Ape, check out the Lost Levels article on this classic that without them, would never be playable to the masses.
A few years ago, Bio Force Ape was the subject of quite an ongoing joke regarding the prototype resurfacing (before it actually did). A homebrew game was created full of intentional Engrish and general silliness that was assumed to be associated with a game like this. You can check out the fake homebrew “prototype” here.
Oh, because the real proto apparently isn’t insane enough as is, here’s a tool-assisted speed run of it.
This time around, Mario is now a Doctor apparently, whose goal is to kill viruses Tetris style by dropping differently colored pills into a virus filled bottle until they line up four or more of the same color and dissolve.
Why you should play it
Based on the success of Tetris, Dr. Mario is one of the only Nintendo develeoped puzzle games out there. Offering all the challenge of Tetris with multiple difficulties and speeds as well as as a time trial mode and two player competitive play, Dr. Mario is an undeniable NES classic every retro gamer should have in their collection. Compsed by Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, Dr. Mario’s music is as iconic, classic, and forever memerable as his Super Mario Bros. compositions.
On Feburary 25, 2008, the incredibly talented Japanese indie muscian Hyadain posted a lyrical remix of the “Fever” theme from Dr. Mario. His remix, sung in the style of a female voice through digital pitch manipulation, sung about a young boy and his best friend, his dog. If you’ve ever owned a dog, and even if you haven’t, Hyadain’s remix will have you crying manly tears, even if you’re a woman, guarunteed. Watch the English subtitled version here. Oh, and check out Brentlefloss’s remix too.
Terrorists have seized the underground control complex of a nuclear missile site. To stop the terrorists you will need the powerful weapon the Heavy Barrel. The problem is that the weapon still is in the installation. Before the fortress fell the weapon was taken apart and locked in six different storage lockers. To defeat the terrorists you must collect all keys and reassemble the weapon. The game supports co-op for two players.
Heavy Barrel manages to carve its own path with an emphesis on heavy firepower and nonstop action. Although similar to Ikari Warriors or the top-down stages of Super C, the action in Heavy Barrel feels more tightly focused on keeping the player well stocked with firepower as you build up components of the Heavy Barrel itself. There’s a great progression feeling as every boss encounter you face is proceeded by you simply walking past the wreckage to face the enemies awaiting beyond. Just like the arcade version, the entirety of Heavy Barrel can be played with a friend in co-op, offering up some of the best shooter action seen on the NES outside of Contra. If you missed this one the frist time around, give it another shot. It’s aged surprisingly well.
Long ago, in a distant galaxy, an alien race sent a huge asteroid named Naju toward Earth to make contact with humanity. However, over its long journey Naju was invaded by horrific monsters who quickly destroyed the native civilization and instead set Naju on a collision-course for Earth. As the mysterious Terran female android simply known as the Guardian, your mission is to intercept Naju, activiate its self-destruct mechanisms and destroy it before it reaches Earth.
Although not completely solitary, the Guardian Legend is one of the few NES games that really exceeds at the multiple genre approach. Alternating between overhead between shoot ‘em up stages like Zanac and overhead exploration on foot like Zelda, The Guardian Legend is one of the more unique NES experiences to be had. As the Guardian explores Naju, she will encounter many upgrades, strange creatures and difficult bosses. For maximum enjoyment, grab yourself some grid paper and draw a map of Naju as you play – just like we all had to do back when we first played this classic game. A definite underrated NES gem.
This concludes part 1 of my look back at the Top 100 games for the NES/Famicom. Stay tuned for further installments as I count down the best of the best 8-bit Nintendo games out there. Feel free to drop a comment below regarding your own thoughts and memories regarding these ten picks.