Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List: #4

NES & Famicom Games

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 the final top 10 countdown for my personal picks of the greatest games to grace the NES and Famicom. I will be posting one update per day on my march towards the number one position. This has been a long time coming, and I want to thank you, my readers, for all of your support.

Now then, as before, 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.

Previous entries:

part 1, #100-90
part 2, #89-80
part 3, #79-70
part 4, #69-60
part 5, #59-50
part 6, #49-40
part 7, #39-30
part 8, #29-20
part 9, #19-11
Final top 10: #10
Final top 10: #9
Final top 10: #8
Final top 10: #7
Final top 10: #6
Final top 10: #5

So without further ado, here is entry #4!

#4The Legend of Zelda
1986
Nintendo
Action-Adventute
Price range: $8-15
Difficulty: 6
Region: All

A long, long time ago the World was in an age of Chaos. In the midst of this chaos, in a little kingdom in the land of Hyrule, a legend was being handed down from generation to generation, the legend of the ‘Triforce’; golden triangles possessing mystical powers. One day, an evil army attacked this peaceful little kingdom and stole the Triforce of Power. This army was led by Ganon, the powerful Prince of Darkness who sought to plunge the World into fear and darkness under his rule.

Fearing his wicked rule, Zelda, the princess of this kingdom, split up the Triforce of Wisdom into eight fragments and hid them throughout the realm to save the last remaining Triforce from the clutches of the evil Ganon. At the same time, she commanded her most trustworthy nursemaid, Impa, to secretly escape into the land and go find a man with enough courage to destroy the evil Ganon. Upon hearing this, Ganon grew angry, imprisoned the princess, and sent out a party in search of Impa.

Braving forests and mountains, Impa fled for her life from her pursuers. As she reached the very limit of her energy she found herself surrounded by Ganon’s evil henchmen. Cornered! What could she do? … But wait! All was not lost. A young lad appeared. He skillfully drove off Ganon’s henchmen, and saved Impa from a fate worse than death.

His name was Link. During his travels he had come across Impa and Ganon’s henchmen. Impa told Link the whole story of the princess Zelda and the evil Ganon. Burning with a sense of justice, Link resolved to save Zelda, but Ganon was a powerful opponent. He held the Triforce of Power. And so, in order to fight off Ganon, Link had to bring the scattered eight fragments of the Triforce of Wisdom together to rebuild the mystical triangle. If he couldn’t do this, there would be no chance Link could fight his way into Death Mountain where Ganon lived.

Can Link really destroy Ganon and save princess Zelda? Only your skill can answer that question. Good luck. Use the Triforce wisely.

What's what she said.Why you should play it

Everyone knew this was coming, and here it finally is. Honestly, I don’t know what I can say about this game that you do not already know. The Legend of Zelda was ground-breakingly original, polished to a brilliant shine, easily accessible, and the Famicom Disk System’s killer app. It laid the foundation for every Zelda sequel to follow it, and it became synonymous with the NES era as a whole. It is also one of the most gracefully aged retro gaming experiences in existence, and completely playable today as if it were just released for the first time just last week.

The Legend of Zelda marks one of the first action-adventure titles titles on the NES. As Link, players wield a sword and make their way through the various forests, plains, deserts, graveyards and mountains to discover secret entrances to the eight dungeons in an epic journey to piece together the broken Triforce, vanquish Ganon and save the Princess Zelda.

The game uses an easily understood and now well known formula – search the land for a dungeon. Defeat enemies and solve puzzles to get keys and maps, then locate a special item that allows you to proceed to places you couldn’t get to previously. Finally, fight against a boss guarding a piece of the Triforce. Kill the boss, increase your health, grab the Triforce fragment and repeat the cycle.

Taken at face value, Zelda would already be one of the best games on the NES, but as it turns out, the game has far more depth than that. Defeated enemies drop Rupees, which can be exchanged for useful items in various shops around the game’s massive overworld. There are gambling parlors, charitable monsters and grumpy old men who demand you pay them for destroying the doors to their caves.

As with Metroid, there is absolutely no handholding in Zelda; the game was made for a time without the internet or walkthroughs. You are meant to figure out everything on your own to get the full experience, with only the help the old men give you. As such, new players can literally spend hours wondering around the world in search of where to go next or what to do next. Although Zelda was intended to be linear with numbered dungeons that increase sequentially in difficulty and complexity,  you can do most of them in any order you wish. In fact, it is possible, although extremely difficult, to reach Ganon’s final dungeon without getting a sword. The challenge is entirely up to the player.

However, again, as with Metroid, there are aspects of the Zelda gameplay that are outrageously stolid, such as having to burn a random bush to discover the eighth dungeon or simply having to figure out that “grumble grumble” means you need to feed the monster a chunk of meat that serves no other purpose and you might not have ever bought from one of the shops. It’s pretty clear that such choices were intended to artificially lengthen the experience by forcing the player to try everything they could possibly do before proceeding. One might argue this is a sign of poor game design, but when Zelda was made, choices like this were looked upon as bold and innovative.

Zelda might not look like much by today’s standards with it’s small sprites and repeated environments, yet it is also one of the most imaginative worlds gaming has to offer. When Link fights Octoroks amongst green bushes, it’s easy to imagine him fighting the red creatures in a dense forest, or when exploring a dungeon, its easy to picture him in a dark and cold crept. With a little imagination, Zelda represents probably the most fully realized fantasy world on the NES.

To accompany the action is of course the extremely memorable music produced by the legendary Koji Kondo. The Hyrule overworld anthem is one of gaming’s best tunes, and the jingle that plays when a secret is fond or puzzle solved is instantly recognizable, featured in every Zelda sequel and even in Scott Pilgrim vs the World. The music, like the everything else in this classic game, is timeless.

The Legend of Zelda is undisputedly one of the greatest gaming franchises of all time. It has consistently bested itself (with a few exceptions) and has a very strong future as one of Nintendo’s key properties. The next time you get an urge to play Zelda, consider giving the original title one more go. Oh, and did I mention it has a post game remixed second quest that’s considerably more difficult? While I’m at it, here’s just some last food for thought. There used to be a time when being a nerd was a very, very bad thing. It’s largely thanks to Zelda’s success that nerd culture is so widely accepted today. Nerds the world over owe Zelda a debt of gratitude for making their lives just a little easier. Hurray for Zelda!

Fun fact

When the Famicom Disk System launched in the winter of 1986, The Hyrule Fantasy: Zelda no Densetsu was a launch title for the system, and would quickly prove to be the attachment’s killer app. As with Metroid, the Japanese original version of Zelda uses FM synthesis for it’s titlescreen and a few other tracks, allows saving to the disk and features somewhat lengthy load times. It also utilized the rarely used microphone on the player 2 controller to kill the rabbit-like enemies called the Poles Vice. By making a loud noise into the mic, you could cause these creatures to explode.

For its North American NES debut, Zelda used battery-backed s-ram to store its data, as Zelda was far too complex to finish in a single setting as was often the case with most other NES games. When Zelda was released in 1987, it became the first console videogame to feature battery backed saving. To further drive up the game’s importance, Nintendo of America sold the game in a special gold painted cartridge that glistened a beautiful color.

In 1989, an original The Legend of Zelda cartoon loosely based on the original Legend of Zelda appeared on Fridays in place of the regular Super Mario Bros. Super Show. Only thirteen episodes were created before the series was cancelled, which is a shame, because Zelda is a significantly better videogame cartoon series than either the Super Mario Bros. Super Show or Captain N were.  Sure it’s cheesy and campy, but it’s also just fun to watch.

Here’s the opening sequence.

Eventually in Japan, Nintendo released a Famicom cartridge version that’s otherwise identical to the US version. The cartridge release was intended to be played on the newly release “AV” Famicom, the HVC-101. As such, this version did not support the Player 2 microphone like the original Disk System version.

Likewise, Nintendo of America too re-released The Legend of Zelda in a standard gray cartridge late into the system’s life, well after even The Legend of Zelda A Link to the Past for Super NES was on store shelves. This version is otherwise completely identical to the older Golden cartridge, but because of its relative rarity, it is nevertheless sought after by collectors. Other late re-releases include Punch-Out!! and Metroid.

There have been a few imitation Zelda clones over the years, but there has never been one anywhere close to the quality and cratmanship of 3D Dot Game Heroes for the PS3. This tribute title even goes as far to include Zelda references such as the famous “It’s a secret to everybody”

Here’s the famous original Zelda advert starring two of the greatest kids in the history of the world:

These guys.

Enjoy the commercial.

Finally, I just wan to remind everyone who might be interested that I make a few 3D beadsprites such as Link. To see more, check out this post.

Well, that wraps up 43. Leave your comments and memories below. See ya for #3! Remember to subscribe if you like this.

12 Responses to “Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List: #4”

  1. StarDust Says:

    Well, I know know that Super Mario Brothers is in the top three slots (possibly number 1?) because you haven’t mentioned it yet, and no NES collection would be complete without it. 🙂

    • StarDust Says:

      Scratch that. I meant to say Super Mario Brothers 3 is in the top three slots, but it came out wrong.

  2. This is by far my all-time favorite video game. My family got this when it was first released, and we all played for a little while. Not too long after, I was the only one playing it. It usually takes me about 3 1/2 hours to beat(getting all items and heart containers), and is pretty satisfying. I haven’t tried the second quest in quite some time, but I should give it a go, as it will make the game almost new again. I also have the complete animated series on DVD, and it is campy, but it holds more nostalgic value to me more than anything(“Excuuuussse me, princess!”). Excellent list so far. Now on to the top 3!

  3. AshenLight Says:

    Another excellent choice, but I don’t think I could ever put three games consistently above both Zelda and Metroid…

  4. LazzAron Says:

    I had no idea the gray cartridge was rarer than the gold, and I even paid less for the grey one on ebay 😉

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      Well, the price range for the gray cart Zelda tends to be slightly higher, but nothing too outrageous. Maybe $12-20.

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  7. While I feel the original LoZ is kinda dated, this is still a fun game.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      Well sure, but everything on the NES is dated. That goes without saying. All that matters is how things have aged, and how they still play now. Zelda 1 is excellent in that regard. This is a timeless game that will still be worth playing 50 years from now.

  8. I really wish a new Zelda would really take a hard look at the first game and go back to its open world roots. It’s one of the many things that made this such a standout IMO. That and nearly every screen has a secret on it. Top-notch to this day.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      I think it was a design choice that could only happen back then. Modern gamers expect to be guided on linear paths and told exactly what to do. Even games like Windwaker which ARE open ended structure things to only allow you to proceed on linear paths. Zelda 1 is extra special in how much it says “fuck you” to conventional design.

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