Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List #1
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 entry of my personal picks looking back on the greatest games to grace the NES and Famicom. This has been a long time coming, and I want to thank you, my readers, for all of your support so far.
Now then, as always, I am ranking the 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.
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
Final top 10: #4
Final top 10: #3
Final top 10: #2
So finally, here is the #1 best overall game for the NES and Famicom!
You all have been waiting patiently for the #1 entry, and here it finally is! What could possibly be better than getting 52 games in a single cartridge? Action 52 runs the gambit from space shooters to weird platformers and arcade-style action games to even more space shooters! 52 games at your fingertips!
Before you even put the game into the NES, you have to first marvel at the cartridge itself. As you can clearly see, it’s completely transparent! Unlike other Nintendo games, Action 52 has nothing to hide! Peering into Action 52, one can see its four 512 KB mask ROMs which act together to make Action 52 the biggest NES game ever at a massive 2 MB! Best part? This game was made in the USA! Active Enterprises sure were believers in American patriotism!
Of course, you probably want to see what awesome games Action 52 contains, right? Here is just a few examples of some of the radical games that Action 52 has to offer:
Haunted Halls is an action horror game where you play as a busty yet daring dudette exploring a creepy cavern under a spooky hill. Armed with an endless supply of crucifixes, she must fight and destroy an army of totally bogus ghosts and googlies. Can our fine fem fighter make it out safely? Only you can decide!
In TimeWarp, guide a pair of giant disembodied fingers across a checkerboard filled with random shapes and floating doors. Flick a finger to defeat your foes! When anything dies, you’ll be presented with “Time?”. It’s almost like the game is making commentary on how easily we flick away our problems. That’s real deep there, Action 52.
In Ninja Assault, you control one bad ninja out to stop crime one fist a time. The graphics are extra special, and the action is totally intense! When you defeat enemies, they explode in a bloody mess! There’s even digitized speech when you attack your foes! It’s like Double Dragon, but with more enemy exploding punches and 100% more action! Action 52, that is!
Now I know what you’re thinking – you’ve seen these kinds of games before. Sure, getting so many in one package is dope, but you want to play some games unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, right? Action 52 delivers! Just take but one example of Action 52, look at Non-Human!
Now that you’ve gotten a small taste of what Action 52 offers, it’s time to learn what makes them all so super special – most of the games employ a very interesting jumping mechanic where you need to jump and THEN push directions with the d-pad! This totally original approach revolutionizes gaming on the NES, and puts everything else to shame. If you disagree, then you be trippin’, fool.
Of course, even the most impressive of collections needs a star, and that star for Action 52 is The Cheetahmen. This crowning achievement in game design will have you entertained for literally minutes at a time. The evil Dr. Morbis has created three failed expirements, Aries! Apollo! and Hercules! Together they are the Cheetahmen, and together they will fight the evil Dr. Morbis and his army of super mutants!
Most of the games in Action 52, aren’t too hot when it comes to music, but all that changes with the star of the show, The Cheetahmen! In fact, The Cheetahmen Main theme is probably one of the best songs in gaming history! It’s so good, it’s been remixed countless times. There’s even an orchestrated version of this classic tune! I implore you to check it out!
[The author would like to apologize for the early 90’s slang used throughout the above mock review. Those responsible for creating those terms have been sacked. Thank you.]
Action 52 was created by a small Florida based developer named Active Enterprises, whose goal was to produce a legal [but unlicensed] multi-cart game for the Nintendo that kids could enjoy. By 1991, workarounds for Nintendo’s lockout chip had been established, and Action 52 was well on its way to stardom. With an MSRP of $199, Action 52 promised gamers fun at less than $4 a game. Since it was so expensive, it didn’t sell many copies, and is now among the rarest games in the North American NES library.
A few years later, a version of Action 52 for the Sega Genesis was produced with completely new and different games. This collection was also pretty pricy and has since become equally rare. Even more strangely, Active Enterprises had designs to make a sequel to their allustrious Cheetahmen. Cheetahmen II would have had a 1992 release, and was going to be a platformer rather than a beat ’em up like the first Cheetahmen. Near completion however, the game was scrapped, and Active Enterprises dissipated. Luckily for retro gaming fans, in 1996 1,500 copies of the game were located in a warehouse in Florida, and then were sold off to NES collectors. Today, these incomplete prototype copies are highly prized for their rarity. It even uses the same Cheetahmen theme song!
Action 52 Commercial
For some fun fan art of Action 52, check out Action Fiftytoons. It’s pretty great.
So there you have it. My top 100 NES/Famicom games list is finally complete! Hopefully you’ve found a number of NES gems you’ve never played, or are revisiting them again after a long time! In particular, I hope you guys are happy with this final entry, as Action 52 deserves the top of not only this list, but the top spot of ANY list! Thanks for all your support everyone!
What’s that? You guys want the real number one entry? But I already gave it to you! Action 52 is awesome!
Oh, alright. The best NES game of all time is Wall Street Kid! In this business simulator, your favorite uncle has tragically passed away, and you are pretty pleased about this news, especially when you realize he has left you $500,000 as you are his sole air! But first you must invest in the stock market, buy a 1 million dollar home, please your girlfriend, and do all sorts of other fun business tasks in this exciting business game!
Today is a special day for a little girl – it’s her birthday. After blowing out her Birthday candles, she receives a present from her parents, a green plush doll with wide, cute eyes named Yumetarō , or Mr. Gimmick. Taken by the adorable doll, she quickly grows especially fond of Mr. Gimmick and ignores her other toys. That night after the girl falls to sleep, the other, jealous toys band together and kidnap the girl, taking her to the mystical dimension of toys. After this happens, Yumetarō springs to life and enters the world of toys to save her.
I was obviously joking with Action 52 or Wall Street Kid as #1 games, but here I definitely am not. Gimmick is the most elaborate, best planned and most technically impressive game to ever hit the Famicom, but the reason its unquestionably the #1 game on this list is because of its incredible mixture of unsurpassed visuals, audio and gameplay combined.
Visually, Gimmick leaves even the most impressive of NES games like Kirby’s Adventure and Little Samson far behind in its wake. Sunsoft had a long history making visually and technically impressive games on the Famicom such as Batman, Blaster Master, and Super Spy Hunter just to name a few. Having such experience with the hardware and knowing the capabilities and limitations so well, they alone were able to stretch the limited Famicom hardware unlike anyone else.
Like the equally impressive Shantae a decade later, Gimmick puts many games on superior hardware to shame in both visual quality and general excellence. You wouldn’t ever mistake Gimmick for a Super NES game, but it’s still incredible visually impressive. Absolutely everything is lush and beautiful in Gimmick – the sprites are silky smooth in their animation, absolutely everything has a distinctive look to it, and Sunsoft manages to make such brilliant use of colors that you’ll easily be fooled into thinking you’re seeing more than twice the total number of colors the hardware is capable of producing simultaneously. It almost looks like a Sega Master System title.
In addition, to that, it is truly astounding how many sprites there are in this one game. The levels are completely linear, yet there are literally dozens of enemies you’ll encounter just a single time and are never reused. Even reoccurring enemies, such as the black blobs, reappear wearing different suits of armor or with various weapons, making each new encounter as unique as the first.
While Gimmick might seem like just another cutesy, simple platformer like so many Taito games towards the end of the NES era, it is actually one of the most complex and astonishingly difficult games on the platform. The Famicom version only gives you three lives, so it’s important to kill as many enemies as possible to gain points for extra lives. Gimmick employs what can only be described as a physics engine – momentum, vectors, and gravity all play a key role in Gimmick’s gameplay.
You see, Yumetarō doesn’t attack enemies himself – he generates a star much like Megaman charges his Mega Buster. The star is then tossed at enemies, but thanks to the physics engine, it interacts with the environment it is introduced to, bouncing to and fro in a realistic manner. Yumetarō can even stand on his star before it dissipates after a few seconds.
There are some extremely tricky jump puzzles that take advantage of this unique mechanic, requiring Yumetarō to jump on his star and then jump off it to reach areas he normally wouldn’t be able to jump to. Most of these tricky jumps are simply required to find the hidden items scattered throughout the stages. At first, it seems all collecting the items does is grant you points for extra lives, but in actuality you need them all to unlock the game’s true ending.
In addition to the standard star attack, there are several one time use items such as flash bombs, fireballs, and health restoring potions. You can carry up to three items at once, and careful rationing of them is the key to success.
Another key component in Gimmick’s cap is the soundtrack composed by Sunsoft’s resident master composer Masashi Kageyama. Every one of the songs are extremely well composed, catchy and memorable, but what makes the soundtrack so damn special is the expansion sound chip present.
The Japanese release of Gimmick had a special version of the AY-3-8910 sound chip, also used in the Amstrad CPC and Atari ST computers, embedded in the MMC chip to help the regular Famicom sound chip with the music. The AY-3-8910 worked much like Konami’s VRC6 sound chip by producing extra sound channels for the game, thereby allowing for a much more vibrant sound. The resulting additional channels are used for harmony and percussion almost exclusively, and strangely, only three of the five available additional channels are used. It’s somewhat puzzling. Check out this example of the game’s outstanding soundtrack.
Given all it has going for it, Gimmick is truly one of the best videogames ever produced and leaves everything else on the Famicom far, far behind. If you’ve been looking for the best hidden gem on the platform, you just found it.
Although Gimmick received only a somewhat limited release in Japan, it did manage to get a PAL NES release only in Scandinavia, of all places. Just like the North American NES, the European NES does not have pins wired up correctly on the cartridge connector for external sound chips. As a result, the Scandinavian version’s soundtrack is reworked to only use the internal 2A03 sound chip of the system itself.
Unlike Castlevania III and Akumajou Densetsu however, the audio differences are slight, given that the AY-3-8910 was only ever used for added harmony and percussion.
It is also worth noting that the Scandinavian release, like most of Sunsoft’s PAL releases, is optimized for 50hz PAL, and the entire game as well as its music will play 17% faster if loaded on an NTSC NES. Not only will the music run faster, the digitized drums and DPCM sounds are garbled, and there will be severe screen tearing glitches. Late in the Playstation’s life, Sunsoft began porting several of the Famicom classics to the Playstation in double pack compilations called the Sunsoft Memorial Series only in Japan. Their sixth and final release bundled Battle Formula (Super Spy Hunter) along with Gimmick. Although the game wasn’t released in limited quantities, it nevertheless fetches well over $100 on ebay today.
Even given the issues with it, prices for even loose copies of the Scandinavian release often exceed $1000 in the secondary used market. Luckily, Retrozone offers an apparent US prototype that is based on the Scandinavian version, but runs completely like the Japanese Famicom original, but starts the player with seven lives instead of three. Given the hundreds of dollars both the Japanese and Scandinavian versions command or the high cost of the Japanese Playstation port, Retrozone’s Mr. Gimmick reproduction is money well spent not only for NES collectors, but anyone wanting to get their hands on one of the finest retro games ever made.
Gimmick is the only game known to be developed by Authentic Entertainment. Some similarities are seen in the GameBoy game Trip World, but the staff credits are not the same. Even so, if you like the sound of Gimmick, look up Trip World. It’s extremely rare and pricy as well, but it’s almost as much fun as Gimmick is.
Better than any commercial, I leave you with Frank Cifaldi’s excellent annotated playthrough of Gimmick. Keep in mind he’s using an emulator to play the game at a quarter of it’s normal speed – the game isn’t as easy as he makes it look.
So there you have it everyone – 100 of my favorite NES and Famicom games. The NES era is behind us now, and many things have changed and evolved – including Nintendo.As a lifelong fan of the experiences Nintendo’s 8-bit machine produced, I am especially excited about future homebrew development that continues the legacy of simple fun expressions of creativity. As long as I am a gamer, I will remain a fan of the NES. As long as there are cartridges, I will play my NES. As long as there is NES homebrew, the NES will eternally be live. Long live the NES and Famicom!
Thank you for reading my top 100 NES/Famicom Game list! If you want a behind-the-scenes look at how this list came to be and also learn a bit about my outlook on gaming in general, please listen to the full hour interview with JewWario. A direct link can be found by clicking here.