Top 100 NES/Famicom List #29-20
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’s 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 eight 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 tab/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!
Welcome to the world of MicroMachines! This land is filled with fast moving toys that are small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Race your little vehicles through several different tracks that range from a tabletop or bathtub to even a pool table! It’s a big world out there. Can you handle it?
MicroMachines came in a golden cartridge, and just as the idea would suggest, MicroMachines is indeed a golden gem on the NES. Produced and manufactured by unlicensed developer CodeMasters for the long gone game publisher Camerica, MicroMachines is by far the best racing game on the NES; spending even a few minutes with it will clearly shows why. The game is an arcade style overhead racer that pits miniature toy cars, boats and planes in races in ordinary household environments such as a breakfast table, workbench, bathtub and many other common yet exotic locales. In a brilliant twist on the usual problems with sprite size limitations on the NES, MicroMachines actually uses these limitations to its benefit by placing the small vehicle sprites in race track locales filled with large, easily reconizable objects that the player knows in reality are small, such as screws, erasers or whole Oranges. When these objects are placed against the tiny sprites it creates a fantastic sense of scale unique amongst NES games.
In addition to the excellent single player, MicroMachines also features an excellent head-to-head multiplayer mode where two players race each other in randomized stages. There is no split screen option here – in this mode the two competing players struggle to not only see who can cross the finish line in first place, but also who can even stay on the screen for long stretches. The race is not only decided based on who crosses the finish line first, but also on who can stay on the visible screen the longest. This idea again compliments the limitations of the NES and leads to some of the most intense racing action any home console can deliver.
With truly excellent controls and fantastic visuals, sadly MicroMachines doesn’t deliver much on the audio front, with no music playing during actual gameplay to speak of. Still, all things considered this is a minor complaint against what is otherwise a must-have NES classic. Sure, there have been better MicroMachines games released over the years, but the NES original is still something special, especially considering its a completely unlicensed game on a system not well known for excellent racing games.
A rare example of an NES game without a Famicom counterpart, MicroMachines was completely unlicensed and sold only in North American and European markets. Like all other Camerica unlicensed games, MicroMachines employed a bypass circuit to literally send a small electric shock to the NES-10 Lockout chip, temporarily disabling it to allow the game to be played on the original toaster style NES. It was also released for the short lived obscure NES add-on, the Alladden Deck Enhancer.
As for MicroMachines themselves, in case you either don’t remember them or were too young to have them in the height of their popularity, MicroMachines was a toy line of miniature cars even smaller than typical Matchbox or Hotwheels cars. They were produced by Galoob (the same company to later produce the Game Genie line) and are fondly remembered by many who grew up in the late 80’s/early 90’s. MicroMachines TV commercials in particular are very memorable. Over one hundred were produced starring the world’s fastest talking man, John Moschitta Jr. Here is but a taste of the over than one hundred MicroMachines commercials kids were exposed to in the late 1980’s.
And finally, here’s some gameplay of the NES MicroMachines.
The evil Slick has kidnapped Ryan’s girlfriend and taken over the high school. The player is cast as either Ryan or his friend Alex and has to fight his way through River City’s merciless gangs before confronting Slick and freeing Ryan’s girl.
Why you should play it
River City Ransom was a pioneering game in so many unique aspects, and is hands down the best beat ’em up for the NES. You travel throughout River City, encountering various rival gangs that serve as the enemy fodder. Enemies have no lifebar, but they do offer up dialogue when you encounter them and famously exclaim “BARF!” when they are defeated. Fallen enemies drop coins, which can be spent in the game’s various stores to buy stat increasing items, restore health, or learn new attacks. In this sense, River City Ransom is more like an RPG than a beat ’em up. This element makes River City Ransom more complex and interesting that it would otherwise be, and is one of the defining features that separates it from the many beat ’em ups out there. The amazing Kunio-kun visual style coupled with a great score and fantastic two player co-op experience makes RCR still a beat ’em up worth returning to over and over. On the downside, the game’s passwords are outrageously lengthy, as they record EVERYTHING you’ve accomplished. Unless you like the idea of writing down and later entering 30 digit long passwords, it’s best to try and beat RCR in one sitting.
River City Ransom is known as Downtown Nekketsu Monogatari (Downtown Hot-Blooded Story) in Japan, and is part of the long running Kunio Kun series by Technos Japan. It’s unofficially the sequel to another Technos Kunio-Kun brawler called Renegade.
Since the original Famicom and subsequent NES release, there have been three remakes of the classic game. The first was the X68000 port in 1990, which featured slightly more colorful graphics, more areas and new moves. The next port was to the PC Engine CD in 1993, which features enhanced graphics, an arranged soundtrack, and voice acting. The final remake was for the GameBoy Advance released in 2004 worldwide by Atlus. The GBA remake is notable for being the only version not to feature a true cooperative mode. Instead, the game can be played with an AI-controlled partner. The GBA version also includes many configurable options that can adjust gameplay on the fly, such as changing AI behavior, the amount of enemies in one map area, shop items available and even the effects of gravity.
Price range: $8-12
It is the year 1691. Thanks to the efforts of vampire hunter Christopher Belmont, the land of Transylvania has once again been still for one hundred peaceful years. The people have slowly begun to forget the terrible memories of when the land was dominated by chaos and shadows. When the undead roamed, and when the evil vampire count Vald Tape Dracula terrorized the Earth. However, there are those who still remember that the immortal Count Dracula is said to return once every one hundred years. Thus, one evening the dark prince rises and returns to Castlevania, his magic-bound ancestral home, calling forth with him his demonic minions.
Simon Belmont, ancestor to the Transylvanian hero, picks up his family’s legendary whip and sets off to restore freedom to the land and destroy Dracula, no matter the cost.
Castlevania is a must if you want to experience the true essentials of classic NES gaming. The objective is simple – guide a dude wielding a whip who has poor acrobatic skills through Dracula’s demonic home and slay anything you see. Castlevania is a legend for how clearly memorable the game is, from the spooky visuals to the hauntingly beautiful arranged soundtrack featuring some of the best chiptunes ever put to code. The tough-as-nails NES release is actually the hardest version of any release, so you may want to considering shelling out the major cash the Famicom cartridge version nets. The Famicom version adds in an easy mode, which halves the damage you take and prevents recoil, making the game much more accessible to players of any skill.
Castlevania was released in Japan as Akumajō Dracula for the short lived Famicom Disk System. The original version allowed saving between stages, for three save slots. This meant that unlike the NES conversion, you didn’t need to one-shot the entire game. In late 1992, Konami began to re-release many of their FDS games on actual Famicom cartridges, and Akumajō Dracula was among the re-releases. The Famicom cartridge Akumajō Dracula featured an exclusive difficulty select at the titlescreen, allowing the player to choose between the game’s original difficulty or a new setting called “easy mode” that really should read as “possible mode”, as it makes the game beatable without serious investment of countless hours dying to the various bosses, especially Death. Castlevania was also released on the GBA’s Classic NES Series and is available on the Wii’s Virtual Console.
The 1991 Super Castlevania IV on the SNES was actually an elaborate remake of the game, adding in some new concepts and gameplay elements to the original while ignoring most of the refinements from Castlevania 3.
Taking a rather literal view of the term ‘slap-stick humour’, Rodland features two fairies called Tam and Rit, whose mission is to rescue their mother who’s been captured and taken to a castle.
There are 40 screens to clear, all full of baddies, who are disposed of by grabbing them with a stick, and flipping them from side to side to inflict damage. The hits needn’t all be inflicted at the same time, as it’s possible to release them to move them out of the way.
Obviously based on Bubble Bobble, Rodland manages to deliver the same kind of entertaining, cutesy fun, but pulls many of its own tricks that arguably makes it an even better game. Sadly unreleased in North America, Rodland is one of the best arcade ports for the NES you probably haven’t even heard of, let alone played. Each level is filled with enemies whom you defeat by grabbing them, then flipping them from side to side until they explode into fruit. You can’t jump to avoid enemies, so to avoid being trapped between groups of enemies you can build then climb a magic ladder by pressing Up and B. The two player co-op mode of Rodland again takes cues from Bubble Bobble, but improves on that design too. Here you can be a dick and stun your partner long enough so you can collect items and fruit before they can, if you so choose. Just be aware you’ll need deep pockets if you want to pick up this game.
Based on an arcade game of the same name, Rodland was very popular in Europe and was released on all the major European computers of its era. The European NES version was released only in Italy and is among the rarest licensed titles out there, and is also therefore among the most expensive games out there. Even the Famicom version is uncommon and a bit pricy. Play it on the Powerpak or an emulator first and decide for yourself if the insane prices for it are personally justifiable.
PAL version of Rod Land gameplay (sorry, couldn’t find the Famicom version)
In the year 2631, a small meteorite has fallen into the Galuga archipelago, located 20km northeast off the coast of New Zealand. Two years later, a terrorist group known as Red Falcon has seized the island in preparation for an alien invasion. The earth’s marines sent two members of their elite Contra unit, Bill Rizer and Lance Bean to neutralize the terrorists.
Why you should play it
The poster child for Run ‘n Gun games, Contra is even today commonly recognized as one of the greatest action games of all time. The premise is simple – run from left to right blowing away anything that you see until you face a boss. Based on the arcade game of the same name, the Famicom and subsequent NES versions became far more popular than the original arcade game, sacrificing the arcade’s superior visuals for faster gameplay and better level design.
Contra is famous for its varied level design and over the top weapons such as the all-powerful Spread Gun, which is like a cross between a Shot Gun and an Assault Rifle. The entire game can be played cooperatively with a friend, but the game is incredibly difficult, affording the player just three lives to clear the whole game. With one hit instant kills, clearing Contra is no easy task. Featuring great graphics and timeless appeal, Contra is a game you’ll want to return to again and again.
Contra is probably most well known in North America for being one of the first games to feature the infamous Konami Code, which grants the player thirty lives rather than the initial three. Although Gradius used the code before it, it was Contra that made the code popular. This code is almost essential for completion of the game, and is one of the most widely recognized cheat codes ever.
In Japan, the game used Konami’s own memory mapper controller, the VRC II instead of the UNROM chip used in the NES version. The VRC series were more powerful mappers that allowed for additional graphical effects not possible in Nintendo’s own mappers. Compared to the UNROM NES version, the Famicom version features story cutscenes, swaying trees and falling snow effects. The Famicom version also has additional cheat codes not in the NES build, including a stage select and sound test, as well as a hidden ending.
In parts of Oceania and Europe, the game was released under the title Gryzor. For most of Europe and other PAL territories though, the game was heavily censored removing all humans with robots and released under the new title Prototector. The reasoning of this was to avoid any mention of the then recent Iranian Contra Affair, and also as a way of releasing the game in Germany, a country that would otherwise ban sales of the game due to the content of military men shooting and killing other humans.
Due to the ease of reverse engineering UNROM games and the game’s continued popularity, Contra is commonly found on pirated Famicom multicarts and Famiclones with built-in games. In many cases the game is duplicated many times, offering versions that make the spread shot your default weapon or start on a different stage.
Wherever there is treasure to be found, Scrooge McDuck isn’t far behind. Despite being rich, his lust for all that glitters will have him scouring every corner of the Earth – and beyond – for riches. Joined by his three nephews and his other friends, Scrooge McDuck will explore exotic and dangerious places such as the Amazon forest, African Mines, the Himalayas, Transylvania and even the Moon! Get ready for some DuckTales!
Why should you play it? It’s a goddamn Disney game made by Capcom! But if you must know the details, Duck Tales is a Megaman-styled platformer with well animated colorful cartoony sprites with that bit of extra magic that made almost every single Capcom game in the NES era worth playing. As is the case with most Capcom-Disney games especially, the music is on a level of its own. The Moon Theme in particular is so iconic that ScrewAttack named it the single greatest musical representation of the NES era as a whole, and I’d be hard pressed to disagree. If you have warm, fuzzy memories of watching DuckTales as a child or just want to play a timeless NES classic, go grab a NES controller and put in DuckTales. WOO-HOO.
Based on the cartoon series of the same name, Duck Tales is widely considered to be one of the best children’s cartoons ever made, and spawned a successful movie. The NES game was popular everywhere it was sold, even in Japan. There was even a GameBoy port of the game and a sequel released late in the NES life which now fetches a pretty penny.
I would put gameplay footage, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to post this incredible remix of the Duck Tales Moon theme.
Thank me later.
In the year 1909, a mysterious dark shadow covered a small country town in rural America. At that time a young married couple – George and Maria – vanished from their house without a trace. Two years later, George suddenly reappeared in his home. He never spoke to anyone about what he had experienced. Instead, he lead a solitary life and began to study psychokinesis, all by himself. His wife however, never returned.
Eighty years later, strange things begin to happen in the same small town. After defeating a poltergeist in his home, a young boy named Ninten embarks on a journey to learn to use psychic powers he never knew he had. Along his way Ninten meets the quiet Ana, a young genius named Loid and a gang thug named Teddy. The four heroes will together must explore the world and find out the connection between the strange events of today and the mystery of the past.
Why you should play it
Where do I even begin? Earth Bound is an icon of the NES era lost to American audiences for nearly two decades. Released in Japan as MOTHER, this game is EarthBound‘s moodier, less verbose, and far more inscrutable older brother. What appears on the surface to be a simple story driven RPG reveals itself to also be about friendship, love and, well… and singing.
Unlike any other RPG of its day, Earth Bound is set in modern times and uses sporting goods or other household items in place of weapons and psychic powers called PSI in place of magic. With quite possibly the largest world map of any Famicom RPG, time spent not traveling across the non-linear world is spent in the Dragon Warrior influenced battle system where the player encounters random enemies from a first person viewpoint with some great spell effects to liven things up.
Visually, the game uses a minimalist style keeping everything as basic, yet easily recognizable as possible. That’s not to say that Earthbound is a bad looking game by any means, but just don’t jump in preparing to be constantly wowed in the same way as other games I’ve always mentioned in this list. On the other hand, Earth Bound has truly some of the best music on the Famicom, with compositions by the well accomplished Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka and Keiichi Suzuki, who is best known for his score of the SNES sequel EarthBound.
As highly as I regard Earth Bound however, I must give fare warning: it is most certainly not a game for everyone. While it broke many RPG conventions, Earth Bound is still a product of its time, plagued by long hours of mandatory level grinding and frequently confusing progression goal markers leaving you confused on just where to proceed next. That said, as long as you know what you’re getting into and have the fortitude to see it through to the end, you can’t go wrong with the classic Earth Bound.
Earth Bound was written and designed by Japanese author Shigesato Itoi and produced by Nintendo’s Shigeru Miyamoto. Upon completion, the then unnamed RPG was christened MOTHER, partly based on the John Lennon song and partly because Itoi wanted a game title that sounded the least “game-like.”
Unsurprisingly, MOTHER was a massive success in Japan, selling over 400,000 copies in its initial release. Just like Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy before it, plans were prepared to bring MOTHER to America by the end of 1990. It even appeared in a preview in an early issue of Nintendo Power. However, despite the English version being fully finished by the end of that year, the game was delayed until it was sadly cancelled.
Sandhop notes that the localized MOTHER, renamed to Earth Bound [two words] was to include an 80 page strategy guide and two posters to entice more skeptical US gamers to dive into the game. In addition, the US version would feature an expanded menu, the ability to run with the B button, a look action, a few graphical and censorship changes, and an expanded ending. After the game was cancelled fans eagerly awaiting the game would be forever denied the game they had been waiting for – or so it seemed.
Years later in 1998, a former Nintendo employee sold a fully translated and fully playable prototype of Earth Bound to a game collector named Kenny Brooks, who then made a deal with the translation group Demiforce for the ROM to be dumped and released for the public. After modifying the game slightly to remove the anti-piracy string ironically programmed in to prevent copies of the prototype to be made, the titlescreen was modified by Demiforce to add in the world “Zero” to help better differentiate Earth[space]bound from EarthBound, the SNES sequel.
Since then, Earth Bound has become one of the most popular reproduction games, and is available form reproduction makers such as NES Reproductions. Despite the cult following and the finished state of the game in Nintendo’s possession, it is highly unlikely that Earth Bound will EVER be released by Nintendo in the US market.
Original commercial featuring Eight Melodies
A year after the dragon ninja Ryu Hyabusa killed the evil Jaquio, a new villain named Ashtar emerges from the shadows. Ashtar, who had been controlling Jaquio, devises a plan to rule over Earth by opening the Gate of Darkness using the once sealed muramasa, the Dark Sword of Chaos. Seeking to lure Ryu Hyabusa into his trap, Ashtar kidnaps Irene Lew, and waits to spring his trap on the dragon ninja…
Why you should play it
Released in 1990, Ninja Gaiden II was a graphical powerhouse on the NES proving that talented developers had only just begun to tap into the full potential of Nintendo’s 8-bit machine. Once again you assume the role of dragon ninja Ryu Hyabusa on his crusade to rescue Irene, stop an evil overlord, and murder several hundred underlings along the way.
You’ll gain sub weapons and crazy ninja powers from floating orbs and traverse tricky stages using Ryu’s unique wall clinging abilities and jumping skills. Certain improvements such as reduced damage taken from foes and the ability to climb up and down vertical walls make the sequel a little more forgiving than the both it’s predecessor and its successor.Nevertheless, make no mistake about it – Ninja Gaiden II is still one of the hardest games on the NES. Every area is brimming with near sadistic level design traps and hazards, such as enemies that push you into pits, blowing winds, and completely dark platforms that become visible only briefly with sporadic flashes of lightning in the distance. With such extreme challenge present throughout the levels, suffice it to say that although the easiest in the trilogy, Ninja Gaiden II still requires massive amounts of patience as well as raw oldschool gaming skill to see it through to the end.
Curiously, the game has not one, but three hidden sound test modes. To access the first sound test go to the title screen and press and hold Up, Left, Select, B and A all at once before pressing Start. This will take you to a sound test screen with a Chibi-Ryu sprite. To access the second sound test, wait for the title screen to fade to the intro, press start to return to the title screen, and then enter the same code as the first sound test. This time, the menu will show a Chibi-Irene instead. To access the third and most feature-rich sound test, wait for the title screen to fade to the intro, return to the title screen and wait for it to fade for a second time, and then enter the code. Accomplishing this will grant access to the third sound test that has both Chibi graphics as well as track names for each song, and even volume/channel controls.
As you blast your way through the next millennium, you’ll be fighting for your life. Aerial bombs, machine guns, and flying warriors will be on the attack. But that’s just for starters. You’ll be piloting the next generation of pursuit craft, including a super-charged racer, aqua blaster water craft and turbo copter. Assuming you can maneuver through twists and turns at maximum turbo force, you’ll need to blast a menacing Boss at the end of each stage.
To survive, you better have reflexes, guts and a sixth sense to avoid disaster. With the speed and G-force-inflicting action of a super chase into worlds you’ve never imagined, Super Spy Hunter is light years beyond the original. And with multi-dimensional graphics and sound effects that bombard your senses, it’ll take everything you’ve got. Super Spy Hunter. It’s a manhunt at the speed of light.
Why you should play it
Take the speed, weapons and excitement from the original Spy Hunter and then multiply that by a factor of ten and you begin to see why Super Spy Hunter is an outstanding game. The concept is once again simply to travel up the screen and blow up anything in your way, but this time there’s much more variety in the environments, hazards, enemies and weapons. Among the coolest weapons this time around are the oil blanket, cluster shot and a rotational firing drone that can be controlled to fire in any direction as you drive.
As you can tell from the screenshots, Super Spy Hunter is among the best looking driving shooters ever to grace an 8-bit console. The production value is just through the roof. Of particular note is the incredibly smooth twisting effect when the road curves around you in most of the game’s stages, and later on falling onto a distant road with impressive scaling effects totally unseen anywhere else on the Famicom.
In addition to the visuals, Super Spy Hunter packs a powerful punch in its soundtrack by Nobuyuki Hara, the man responsible for such legendary Sunsoft soundtracks as Batman The Videogame, Batman Return of thee Joker, Journey to Silius and Gremlins 2.
Continuing the theme of extreme difficulty, be warned that like most games developed by Sunsoft in their NES days, Super Spy Hunter becomes incredibly difficult through the second half of the game, especially where boss battles are involved. Even so, the game is such an improvement over the original Spy Hunter that it remains one of the finest driving based virtual shooters ever made. The game is fairly rare, so if you spot a copy, don’t hesitate to pick up this classic cartridge.
Super Spy Hunter was originally released in late 1991 for the Famicom in Japan under the title Battle Formula. Developed by Sunsoft, the game was an obvious homage to Spy Hunter, but lacked the license or any other link to the Bally Midway arcade game. The following year, Sunsoft was able to secure the Spy Hunter license from Midway, and the game was released in the west as Super Spy Hunter, with no other difference present than just the title. Many gamers consider Super Spy Hunter vastly superior to not only the original Spy Hunter, but also Midway’s follow up game, Spy Hunter II.
Two years after the Vic Viper stopped the evil Bacterian Empire invasion force, they have regrouped and once again threaten the peaceful planet of Gradius. The Vic Viper is again the only hope for the people of Gradius.
You know the drill – shoot down enemy waves, absorb enemy power capsules and increase your firepower. Gradius II doesn’t stray from this time-tested formula, but it still manages to exceed in every way that counts – it’s bigger, more refined and prettier than its predecessor. From the onset you can choose between four weapon power up configurations that add to replay considerably. Should you choose the Ripple laser and proton missiles or choose twin lasers and two way cluster missiles?
As with the original Gradius, you can cash in power capsules for Options, the mysterious orange drones that closely follow the Vic Viper and mimic its movements and duplicate its firepower. Unlike the Famicom build of the original Gradius however, you can now have up to four of them, and picking up a fifth Option power up causes the four you have to rotate around your craft as a shield.
With massive screen filling bosses, vertical scrolling segments and many sprites moving simultaneously on screen at once, Gradius II was one of the biggest, prettiest and most complex arcade titles of 1988. It would be natural to assume the Famicom version of such an epic shooter would pale in comparison, but defying everything, Konami’s Famicom version is spectacular thanks to the special VRC4 mapper that affords the game the complexity it requires.
Although slightly simplified, everything form the arcade version is present in the Famicom build from the speed, the massive bosses and even the crystal clear voice clips. Gradius II is one of the best Famicom games out there and is certainly worth importing if you love shooters.
Gradius II is one of only eleven Famicom titles to use the Konami VRC4 memory management controller. As there isn’t an NES equivalent to this or any other Koanmi MMC, NES reproductions of Gradius II are impossible.
In 2009, a very talented Japanese hacker named Death☆です created rather complex romhacks of both Gradius and Gradius II for the Famicom. His romhacks use enhanced tilesets and new color pallets to make both games look even closer to the arcade versions than their original Famicom releases.
Among the many changes to both games are new, titlescreens, larger sprites, more arcade accurate color pallets and entirely new boss designs. Both enhanced romhacks are completely fantastic and strongly placed in my Top 25 Powerpak Killer Apps List.
This concludes part 8 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.