Top 100 NES/Famicom games List #59-50
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 it 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.
Welcome to part two of a ten part special looking back on the top 100 NES and Famicom games ever produced.
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 further ado, I hope you will enjoy the Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List!
Sequel to the poorly aged Ganbare Goemon, Goemon 2 puts you back in the geta of Goemon, who is basically a Japanese robinhood who steals from the rich and gives to the poor and punishes bad shoguns, making the Tokugawa period of Japan a bit less crappy for all the peasants. Joining Goemon in his adventure is the wacky ninja Ebisumaru, who often preforms some disturbing and borderline gay ninjitsu moves such as the art of turning into a woman. But hey, the game is from Japan, and as well all know, the Japanese aren’t exactly normal.
Why you should play it
Although a Famicom only release, Ganbare Goemon 2 is not a game that requires Japanese reading skills to complete. Much refined over the original Goemon title, Goemon 2 is actually rather similar to the first Goemon game for the Super NES. Basically a beat ‘em up, the game is unusual in how it focuses heavily on exploration as you guide Goemon through each city of old Japan. There are shops everywhere selling useful items, power-ups galore and some pretty amusing humor that the English fan translation picks up on very well. Try walking into a onsen and then going into the women’s bath. Oh like you wouldn’t.
Ultimately, Goemon 2 comes recommended as its a simple to understand, fun and unique experience that is now fully translated, making it one of the best undiscovered Famicom gems. No matter if you play it two player co-op or go in solo, you’ll find a entertaining and unique game that’s worth the import efforts. You gotta try this one.
If the game seems familiar, its probably because you’re thinking of the mentioned near-launch SNES game, The Legend of the Mystical Ninja. In Japan, Ganbare Goemon (meaning “Do your best Goemon”) has been a long running Konami franchise with many entries spanning from the MSX and Famicom all the way to the PS2. In the western world though, only a handful of Goemon titles have made their way to our shores. For more info on the Goemon franchise in general, check out the excellent Hardcore Gaming 101 article.
It should also be said that although a translation exists for the game’s text, an NES reproduction of this gem is impossible because the game uses the custom Konami VRC2 chip found in no NES donor cart. The only possible donor carts are other Konami Famicom games. Just felt I should throw that out there. However, Retrozone’s Powerpak will play VRC2 perfectly.
Five years after a Nuclear War, street gangs and criminal organizations control what’s left of post-apocalyptic New York City. Despite the chaos, brothers Billy and Jimmy Lee continue to run their small martial arts training school, teaching self-defense in the Sou-Setsu-Ken fighting style to the terrified people of New York. It is said that this fighting style unleashes one’s inner dragon spirit, bestowing the user with the powerful Double Dragon techniques.
One day, Billy’s girlfriend, a former student named Marian, is kidnapped off the street and the Lee brothers receive a letter from her captors, the powerful Black Warriors, demanding to known the secrets of the Double Dragons in exchange for her release. The Lee brothers set out on a rescue mission to crush the Black Warriors and save Marian.
Yeah, I know. Two brawlers in a row? My countdown honestly just happened to end up like this. Utilizing the strengths of the NES, this version of the classic beat ’em up manages to look, sound, and control very well with only the two buttons available. A level up system was also introduced to give the player more moves as they progress through the game. Sadly, there is no two-player co-op mode due to technical limitations, but Double Dragon still stands out as one of the best brawlers on the NES. I chose to go with the original, but if you prefer, you can stick Double Dragon 2 The Revenge into this slot and the same paragraph above would apply.
Developed by Technos who would later go on to be most well known for their Kunio-kun game series, the NES version of Double Dragon is very different than its source arcade game. The technical limitations of the NES and the game engine used meant that only two enemies could be on-screen at any one time, thus making Double Dragon on NES a one-player game. However, to compensate, Technos added in a completely new 2-player fighting mini game. Here you can fight against the computer or another player. You can choose from six fighters, even bad guys like Abobo. This can be fun for a while and is a nice extra addition rarely seen in NES ports. Technos really outdid themselves. Even with the limitations, the NES version is still the definitive build of the classic Double Dragon and the one people think of first when you mention the name. If the NES version isn’t enough for you, I recommend you also check out the GBA version, Double Dragon Advance.
Just when we thought all was right with the Mushroom Kingdom, the princess is held captive in another castle. Once again, the Mushroom Princess has again been snatched up by the evil King Koopa and the Mario Brothers must defeat King Koopa’s army of Koopas, Goombas, Hammer Bros., Piranha Plants and more on their way to rescue her. Journey back to the Mushroom Kingdom and prepare to do battle with the forces of evil.
While the original Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 has been called little more than the first of the now hundreds of SMB ROM-hacks with new, nearly impossible stages, those who dig deeper will find many subtle differences that make SMB2 unique enough from its famous predecessor to stand alone.
At the start of the game, the player can choose between Mario or Luigi, who now have distinct skills – Mario retains all his skills from the first game but can now stop shorter than he could before, and Luigi can jump higher but takes at least twice as long to stop than Mario. All the varieties of enemies can appear anywhere from Boopers in the air to Koopa Troopas underwater. In addition, there are now Poison Mushrooms, backward Warp Zones, and the occasional wind gust (which can help or hinder your progress) to take into account. And if that’s somehow not enough, expert players can go looking for the game’s secret worlds.
Although I’m putting it on my list here, I can’t honestly recommend Super Mario Bros. 2 to everyone. If you absolutely love SMB the new levels and changes to Luigi make it a title to check out, but be warned: I ranked this game a full 10 in difficulty and it firmly deserves that rating. Super Mario Bros. 2 is among the hardest games on the hardware. From extremely difficult platforming to the backwards Warp Zones, Super Mario Bros. 2 provides the dictionary definition of oldschool gaming difficulty. It takes true skill to progress past the punishing 32 levels, so for those who want a challenge, try the original sequel to one of the most famous games ever.
Released in Japan for the ill-fated Famicom Disk System, the game was slated for release on the NES in North America, but NOA spokesman Howard Phillips among others were strongly against the idea, citing the game unreasonably difficult for American children and overall too similar to the first Super Mario Bros.
Looking for a substitute title, NOA looked into the possibility of modifying another Shigeru Miyamoto developed title called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic and the rest as they say, is history.
On a personal note, even back in the late ’80s, I can remember many gaming magazines were quite vocal about getting the word out about the mysterious Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2. Being very young at the time, I remember reading about this game and thinking how cool it would be to have. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the other Suepr Mario bros. 2 we got in the west, but there was just something magical about that one Mario game that got away.
Although the game has since been released in many other forms, such as Super Mario All-Stars and on the Wii Virtual Console just to name a few, the original FDS version has expertly been converted to the common MMC3 boardset by the amazing NES programmer Loopy. Thanks to the hack, NES cartridge reproductions of this lost classic can be purchased.
In the year 2056, a powerful computer virus has appeared in a top secret defense Super Computer of the planet Earth, controlling missiles armed with nuclear warheads. The officials, unable to shut down the computer and having exhausted all other countermeasures, Colonel Scott O’Connor volunteers to undergo an experimental transfer technology that converts his brain waves into raw binary cod, thus allowing him to enter the computer itself and attempt to stop the virus and prevent total annihilation.
The technology that allows him to enter the supercomputer is not fully developed, so no one knows what will become of the colonel once he is inside. O’Connor awakes to find himself in a mechanized silicon jungle that crawls with weird creatues, and he has become a legendary Kabuki character with Quantium Fighting powers!
Despite the fact that the story is a complete Tron rip-off, Kabuki Quantum Fighter is a great hidden gem on the NES. Like the outstanding Shantae, the main attack in Kabuki is your long hair. You can also use many sub-weapons, such as throwing chips, an energy gun or hand bombs. The graphics are very detailed and the music is rather excellent as well. Kabuki is also a perfect balance of difficulty requiring only a few plays before you’ll be able to see the credits roll.
Want to play Kabuki Quantum Fighter with a better translation? Check out the fan translation of The Circle of Heaven and Hell at Stardust Crusaders. The new translation removes all the Americanization and keeps the story completely in-tact to the Japanese original, where the story at least attempts to make a little more sense.
Terrible American commercial for Kabuki Quantum Fighter
All is fine and well for Master Higgins and his girlfriend until a big, evil face composed of three stars appears before Higgins and his girlfriend, and steals away all of his animal friends. Now Master Higgins must travel the Adventure Islands to rescue his friends and put and end to the evil face star.
While the first three Adventure Island games were fairly basic platformers, Adventure Island 4 mixes things up with non-linear Metroid-like stages, cool bosses and most obvious of all, extremely fluid, wonderful graphics. This is the peak of perfection on the Famicom and deserves a playthrough every few years.
Hudson, a supporter of the Famicom since the beginning, poured everything they had into this one last title for the system they loved so well and it really shows. Translated at last for the internet era, this is a beautiful example of what a skilled ROM hacker can accomplish. There wasn’t a whole lot of text in the game, but Neo-Demiforce did a great job making it seem as though this one very well could have been localized by Hudson themselves.
Released on June 24, 1994, Takahashi Meijin no Boukenjima 4 was the final licensed game to be released for the Japanese Nintendo Family Computer. As the swan song to one of the most popular consoles of all time, the game is highly sought after primarily for its historic importance with less emphasis placed on the outstanding quality of the game itself. Due to the demand, prices for just cart-only copies usually hover around $90-100 USD. Luckily though, the game uses a common mapper, so NES reproductions are once again possible and recommend to save your pocketbook.
In the 21st century, the evil Emperor Garuda has taken over the city of New York, killing many of its inhabitants. In response to this injustice, two ninjas, Hayate and Kaede appear from the shadows and plan out an attack strategy to free with the city of Garuda’s control and ultimately kill him.
Developed by Natsume, now best known for their casual games such as Harvest Moon and Lufia, Shadow of the Ninja is often compared to Tecmo’s Ninja Gaiden, but the two games are really rather different. Although still a challenge, Shadow of the Ninja isn’t nearly as frustrating and isn’t filled with Ninja Gaiden’s signature end-level cutscenes.
That said, the biggest difference really comes from the multiple weapons such as throwing stars and a grappling hook in addition to the standard katana. There’s even a two player co-op mode where the second player assumes the other ninja the player didn’t choose. Although Hayate and Kaede have identical abilities, giving the player the choice of character is a nice finishing touch on what is already a terrific ninja action game. Come for the ninjas and great graphics, but stay for the music and the high replay value.
Following the success of Shadow of the Ninja in all regions (though under different names), Natsume’s Nagoya division began development of a Game Boy port of Shadow of the Ninja to further popularize their take on the ninja action platformer. However, late into development, Tecmo, creators of the extremely popular Ninja Gaiden series apparently bought the rights from Natsume, slightly changed the game’s protagonists to be Ryu Hyabusa only, and released it as the Tecmo branded Ninja Gaiden Shadow. Huh. A finished game being re-branded with a popular character and shoehorned into the franchise despite the obvious major differences. Why does that sound so familiar?
After having uncovered a plot to build a Supermech, Timmy heads to an ancient high-tech fortress in an effort to prevent this weapon from being completed. You must navigate Timmy through the various sectors of the fortress, while battling its denizens and avoiding its many dangers. Along the way, you will uncover items that will allow progress to new locations of the fortress and grant you new abilities. The impressive map contains over 550 rooms with Super Metroid style continue points scattered throughout, and 5 difficulty settings.
Ah, Battle Kid. It’s probably the biggest homebrew game ever made for the NES from scratch and also one of the best. It’s inspiration from the infuriatingly difficult I Wanna Be the Guy is obvious, but Battle Kid never throws random obstacles at you the same was IWBTG does. As Sivak himself has stated, the game always shows you what you did wrong when you die, allowing the player to be able to progress further as they play.
Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril is extremely hard in the same way Super Mario Bros. 2J is, yet the game manages to remain minimally frustrating and infinitely rewarding once you surmount the odds against you. The game is available from Retrozone for $30 USD, and is fully playable in all NES systems thanks to the cyclone lockout chip included. Not sure if you want it? The demo is free and gives players a good taste of the first and easiest area of the game. The demo is playable in any emulator including the Powerpak itself. Considering the quality and length of the game, the asking price of $30 is just about right. Be warned however – Battle Kid is for hardcore NES fans only. Casuals beware.
During the initial release of the game, several copies of the prototype build were accidentally sent off in place of the finished build, which angered game’s creator Sivak. The prototype version is nearly identical to the correct version but should have only been given out in numbered releases to the production staff and testers. As such, there’s a mild demand amongst NES collectors for prototype copies of Battle Kid, despite how new the game is. There is currently a sequel in the works to make the game a little more accessible to the less hardcore NES fans. I wish I could say more about it, but as of the writing of this list, Battle Kid 2 has yet to be released.
As a child, billionaire Bruce Wayne witnessed his parents murdered by a mugger. He vows to avenge their deaths in a lifelong battle against crime as the costumed vigilante Batman while concealing his secret identity behind his playboy image. By the time he begins his career as Gotham City’s protector, the city is controlled by crime boss “The Joker” who survived a terrible chemical accident with his skin bleached white, his hair dyed green and his lips dyed red. Following a botched attempt at plastic surgery, he was left with a permanent rictus grin, giving him the appearance of a clown. Driven insane by his reflection, “The Joker” now controls Gotham City and only Batman can stop him.
Batman is quite simply one of the most impressive efforts on the NES and is certainly one of the earliest examples of a licensed film game being done right. Although the game itself is only loosely based on the caped crusader’s film exploits, Sunsoft’s incredible attention to detail from the beautiful cutscenes and very detailed graphics to the innovative wall-jump mechanic set the game far apart from its peers. Although the game is extremely difficult and challenging, Sunsoft’s Batman: The Videogame is far from a cheap cash-in. This excellent title is one of the very best platformers on the system and still ranks as one of the best Batman games ever made. It might not be on the same level as the modern Arkham Asylum, but Sunsoft’s game is nevertheless an essential part of any NES player’s collection.
There are known dump of the prototype of Batman that showcase some major differences from the finished version, such as the inclusion of a 1-Up, a different final boss and for the most part, completely new and different cutscenes. The removal of the cutscenes from the final version is odd, especially considering how high quality most of them are. In 2006, a Brazilian ROM-hacker named Macbee released a patch for Batman the Videogame in which the primary colors of the in-game Batman sprite were changed from purple and blue to the much more acceptable black and gold. The slight change makes a huge difference to what is already a great game. Screenshot of the Macbee hack below.
It is the year 2011. Megaman has been fully repaired following the injuries he sustained in the collapse of Dr. Wily’s fortress following Gamma’s destruction in his third battle against Dr. Wily. Even though they were adveresies, it is a somber time for Megaman following the presumed death of the tyrannical scientist in the collapse. Although he had sworn to defend justice, he never intended Wily to parish.
After the chaos ended and peace was restored, Dr. Light received a message from a mysterious Russian scientist named Dr. Cossack, claiming to be the greatest scientific genius in the world and having been far too long overlooked by Dr. Light. Angered and jealous, Dr. Cassock has sent his eight most powerful robots to destroy Megaman to prove his robots are better than Light’s.
As Megaman prepares to face off against the soviet robot threat, there is but one thing he is sure of – IN SOVIET RUSSIA, ROBOT MASTERS YOU!
Megaman 3 is where many stopped playing NES Megaman games, and it’s a true shame. Megaman 4 features everything that made the third game so excellent yet it starts a deja vu feeling a little too strong for its own good. The game is worth playing on its own merits, but as a Megaman game on the NES, it is perhaps the weakest of the bunch. Nevertheless, it’s still among the very best NES games out there. The music is as catchy and memorable as ever, the gameplay just as solid as the others, and some of the robot masters such as Pharaohman are amongst the coolest in the whole series. If you’re looking for an underrated Megaman classic series title, you just found it.
Megaman 4 pioneered many concepts that would become staples of Megaman platforming for decades to follow. It is the first game to feature the Mega Buster, the basic ability for Megaman to charge his arm cannon. It marked the first game where Wily framed someone, a reoccurring theme in nearly every sequel to follow. It was the first Megaman game to make use of many cutscenes, allowed players to revisit stages of defeated robots, and marked the first to have hidden items and alternative paths through some of the stages.
There is a extremely rare gold variation of the the Japanese version that was given out to the finalist winners of the Robot Master Creation Contest held in Japan. These eight cartridges are considered to be one of the Famicom’s holy grails. The only non-privately owned copy is for sale in Akiharaba’s legendary Super Potato retro game store for over $6000 USD!
In a distant part of the universe, an alien space dwelling creature called Zelos was born. As he grew so did his appetite, and soon he began devouring moons, planets and even stars by the hundreds. Now the planet Gradius has appeared in Zelos’ path, and it’s up the Vic Viper to fly into the belly of the beast to destroy him from within and save Gradius from destruction once again.
Why you should play it
Lifeforce is a terrific example of a good arcade game made even better on the NES. A sequel of sorts to Gradius, Lifeforce uses the same power up system and offers an innovate way to keep the gameplay fresh – alternating between side and virtical scrolling stages. Made a bit easier for those new to Gradius, Lifeforce piles power ups early and often, making for a rather enjoyable experience. Rare for an NES shump, the entire game can be played in two player co-op, making the experience all the better as things can get quite hectic in single player mode alone. The best part of Lifeforce however, is the soundtrack. With every new song is another example of chiptune bliss. Lifeforce has one of the best soundtracks of any NES game ever made. Included below are the music videos showcasing the outstanding remixes by Dj Axis. The videos also double as gameplay videos showing why Lifeforce is also a great fun game to play.
The NES version of Lifeforce actually isn’t Lifeforce or Salamander but rather a mash-up of both using the best elements from each. Unlike Salamander it uses the Gradius Power Up system but unlike arcade Lifeforce the NES version features many of the stages from Salamander. In Japan, the Famicom counterpart is identical, but is called Salamander. Confused yet?
DJ Axis amazing Lifeforce tribute
This concludes part 5 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.