Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List – All in One!

Over the past several months, I’ve been publishing segments in an overarching top 100 NES games list. Now that I’ve finally finished, I figured I should give to you guys an unabridged complete listing to find every game in one post. This allows you to Control/Command+F search through this whole list. Let it load for a few minutes though -it’s long. I hope you enjoy!

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 further ado, I hope you will enjoy the Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List!

#100

Duck Hunt

1985

Nintendo R&D1

Light Gun

Price range: $2-4

Difficulty: 4

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. Sure, there were indeed lightgun games before Duck Hunt, but none were really very good or popular. 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 Duck Hunt 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?

Fun Fact

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!

Original Commerical

#99

Battle City

1985

Namco

Fixed Screen arcade action

Price range: $4-8

Difficulty: 5

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.

Fun fact

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.

#98

Xexyz

1989

Atlus

Platformer/Shooter

Price range: $4-8

Difficulty: 6

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.

Why you should play it

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.

Original Commerical

#97

Popeye

1983

Nintendo R&D1

Fixed Screen Arcade

Price range: $6-12

Difficulty: 5

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, ColecoVision or Atari 8-bit computers. It’s an arcade faithful fun time with very high replay value.

Fun Fact

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.

Original Commerical

#96

StarTropics

1990

Nintendo R&D1

Action Adventure

Price range: $4-6

Difficulty: 5

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.

Fun Fact

StarTropics was one of the first (and only Nintendo game) to use an immersive article exterior to the game itself as a crucial 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.

Original Commerical

#95

Abadox: The Deadly Inner War

1990

Natsume

Shoot ’em Up

Price range: $2-6

Difficulty: 7.5

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.

Why you should play it

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 alternates 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.

Original Commercial

#94

Golgo 13 Top Secret Episode

1987

Vic Tokai

Action

Price range: $4-6

Difficulty: 7

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 assassin-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…

Why you should play it

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 occasionally 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).

Fun Fact

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!

Original Commerical

#93

 

Bio Force Ape

1991 (unreleased)

Seta

Platformer

Price range: N/A; price of a reproduction

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.

Fun Fact

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 prototype apparently isn’t insane enough as is, here’s a tool-assisted speed run of it.

#92

Dr. Mario

1990

Nintendo R&D1

Puzzle

Price range: $4-6

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 developed 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. Composed by Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka, Dr. Mario’s music is as iconic, classic, and forever memorable as his Super Mario Bros. compositions.

Fun Fact

On February 25, 2008, the incredibly talented Japanese indie musician 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, guaranteed. Watch the English subtitled version here. Oh, and check out Brentlefloss’s remix too.

Original Commerical

#91

Heavy Barrel

1990

Data East

Overhead shooter

Price range: $4-8

Difficulty: 6.5

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.

Why you should play it

Heavy Barrel manages to carve its own path with an emphasis 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 first time around, give it another shot. It’s aged surprisingly well.

 

#90

The Guardian Legend

1989

Compile

Shooter/Adventure

Price range: $4-8

Difficulty: 6

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, activate its self-destruct mechanisms and destroy it before it reaches Earth.

Why you should play it

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.

#89

Princess Tomato in Salad Kingdom

1991

Hudson Soft

Text-Adventure

Price range: $30-50

Difficulty: 6Many growing seasons ago, the Salad Kingdom was a peaceful land. But one day, minister Pumpkin betrayed king Broccoli, kidnapped princess Tomato, stole the royal Turnip Emblem, and took them to his castle in Zucchini mountains. He sent his cruel Farmies to terrorize the Salad Kingdom. Shortly thereafter, the king died, unable to recover from the loss of his beautiful daughter. But he promised you, the brave Sir Cucumber, the princess’ hand and the entire kingdom, if you save the beautiful Tomato from the clutches of the evil Pumpkin.

Why you should play it

Princess Tomato is one of the only text adventure game for the NES to hit North American shores. You navigate the world using a series of commands such as “move”, “check” or “give”, but you’ll also utilize less traditional options such as “hit” “fight” and “praise”. Early in the game you’ll rescue a baby persimmon named of course, Percy, who then accompanies your adventures throughout the rest of the game. Like many hero-sidekicks, she tends to be on the annoying side.

As you can tell from the title and plot, Princess Tomato doesn’t take itself seriously, and uses the tongue-in-cheek approach rather than a medieval or fantasy one. Like most text-adventure games, process is normally fairly straightforward, but there will be times you’ll need to exhaust every command option you have only to have to leave a screen and come back simply because that’s how the programmers wanted you to do it. Still, if you know what you’re getting into when you first pick up the controller though, you’ll find Pricness Tomato in Salad Kingdom to be one of the most underrated NES classics around.

#88

Boulder Dash

1991

Data East

Puzzle

Price range: $6-8You are Rockford, and you have to dig through monster infested caves in search of diamonds all around the world. In each level you must collect a certain number of these diamonds in order to open a portal to the next stage. Enemies can be squashed by falling boulders, which are released when the ground below them is removed (a simply physics engine is used) or they are pushed onto empty ground, but be careful because these can also squash you. In later levels, difficulty is increased by many puzzle elements and shorter time limits.

Why you should play it

The NES translation of Boulder Dash came somewhat late into its life, but it’s nevertheless an excellent version of the classic computer game.The graphics are bright and colorful, and the many stages and worlds keep things fresh with new takes on the way the game looks. The game has a lot of replay value over multiple difficulties and even has password saves for advanced levels. For an all-round good gem collecting, boulder dodging time, you can’t go wrong with NES Boulder Dash.

Fun Fact

According to the game’s manual, NES Boulder Dash’s hero Rockford was at home caring for his sick father Stoneford, when suddenly Stoneford gave Rockford a map. He said the map was to a mine full of gem’s that he discovered on his last adventure, but was now too weak to raid the mine. At this point Rockford decided to abandon his father and go out searching for gems. Rockford is kind of an asshole.

#87

Yoshi’s Cookie

1993

Intelligent Systems

Puzzle

Price range: $8-12

Difficulty: 5

Cookie chaos for Mario and Yoshi! Mario and Yoshi are filling in at the Cookie Factory and they need your help! Fresh baked cookies roll out of the ovens. It’s up to Mario to sort and stack ’em before they pile too high! Play for a high score or head-to-head against a friend.
Why you should play it
Not to be confused with the inferior earlier Nintendo puzzler simply called Yoshi, Yoshi’s Cookie was released very late into the NES’s life and is probably best known for it’s Super NES and GameBoy versions rather than the NES build. Like all great puzzlers, the idea is simple – arrange various kinds of cookies so they line up in a row either vertically or horizontally and that row will vanish. Continue doing this until all cookies are removed from the play field. The NES build is excellent if you’re a fan of games like Dr. Mario or Tetris.
Fun Fact
An enhanced remake of Yoshi’s Cookie along with Dr. Mario and Panel De Pon was included in the Japan only Gamecube Nintndo Puzzle Collection. In addition to the remakes, the original NES versions of Yoshi’s Cookie and Dr. Mario, as well as an Super Famicom version of Panel De Pon were available to be loaded into a GBA’s temporary storage via a link cable and then able to be played until you turn the power off.
#86

Kaettekita Mario Bros.

1993

Nintendo

Fixed screen arcade action

Price range: $50-100

 

Mario and Luigi, the best plumbers in the world, have a real job on their hands. A host of characters have taken over the sewers, and the brothers must clear them out of the pipes.

The platform puzzle which first introduced Luigi to the world has both single and multiplayer action with two differing game types, but with the same objective. Crabs, turtles and fighter flies must be cleared out by jumping underneath the platform they sit on, then kicking them away. Each level is cleared when a set number of coins is collected.

For the two player mode, the first to collect the set amount of coins wins.

Why you should play it

Available exclusively for the Famicom Disk System, Kaettekita Mario Bros. (Meaning Return Mario Bros.) is a vast improvement from the original Famicom version released worldwide most players are familiar with. Along with a slight upgrade in the visuals, the controls have received a major update, allowing Mario and Luigi to turn as they jump and allowing for more precise movement. This means this version is not only superior to the initial NES release, but also the arcade original!

Fun Fact

Interestingly enough, although there was never a North American counterpart, Kaettekita Mario Bros. was ported to the European NES towards the end of its run in that territory in 1993.  Having only a limited distribution in non-English speaking countries, the game was re-intitled Mario Bros. Classic Serie (note the lack of an s). This version was encoded specifically for the slower PAL NES clockspeed and thus will play 17% faster on a North American NES. Nevertheless, this version is probably the best bet for importers as the original FDS cart was only ever available though a Disk Writer Promotion and is now quite rare. the FDS version came in two versions, one of which had in-game advertising for things like instant rice and soy sauce.

#85

Tecmo Super Bowl

1990

Tecmo

Sports

Price range: $10-20

The teams, the players, and the halftime shows are ready for the ultimate football season, and you’re in control. From the first pre-season game to the playoffs, it’s your call, your skill, and your team. Can you get to and win the Super Bowl? Tecmo Super Bowl is the only football game on the NES to feature onside kicks, blocked passes and kicks, fumbles, pitchout to the running back, player injuries, time-outs, and much, much more! For 1 or 2 players. All 28 NFL teams from 1990-1991 season. Four running plays, four passing plays. Team stats and data. Create your own Pro Bowl. Coach Mode, where you call the plays!
In general, sports games depreciate in value the quickest because they’re the most incremental of all videogames where the old ones loose their appeal the fastest. Why would you want to play Madden ’95 on the SNES when you could play Madden 2K12 on the Xbox 360? In that regard, placing an 8-bit football game from 1990 on the list might seem like a strange choice. The thing you’d be forgetting however, is that this isn’t just any football game – its Tecmo Super Bowl.

Why you should play it

One of the first football games to be officially licensed and have representations of all NFL teams of its era, Tecmo Super Bowl is crammed with a copious amount of game modes and options. Choose from pre-season/regular season/Pro-Bwol games, regular season team standings and rankings, regular season player statistics and rankings, end-of-game boxscores, and a 12-team playoff following the NFL format. Don’t like the players on your chosen team? Edit your team with any of the players in the whole game. Choose and change on the fly your team’s field plays by selecting up to four runs and for passes at once each inputted by a simple, easy to remember button sequence. Choose difficulty levels or play against a friend. 10-Yard Fight eat your heart out.

The music is excellent as well, but the real star of the show is the game’s visuals. Extremely beautifully animated cutscenes showcase particular moments of the action with impressive animation and almost realistic coloring. What’s more is that there are so many cutscenes you can play for days without seeing them all. The in-game graphics are simpler with players being only small sprites on the screen, but this was done to allow players to see who they’re passing to and keep an eye on the entire field that would be impossible if the sprites were large.

No other 8-bit Football game even comes close to matching the sheer polish Tecmo Super Bowl has. Unless you hate video football (and even if you think you do) give this one a try. This is 8-bit football done right.

Fun Fact

There are many ROM hacks of Tecmo Super Bowl out there that update the team roasters with the latest versions. For diehard football fans, you can find a 2011 version of this classic game with all 32 current teams complete with new faces and stats. A great guy named Leon sells reproductions of Tecmo Super Bowl for $25 including shipping if you provide him with a compatible common donor cart. For more information, check out NESReproductions.com.

#84

Ms. Pacman

1992

Tengen

Arcade

Price range: $8-15

Difficulty: 5

This version of Ms. Pacman, commonly known as Tengen Ms. Pacman to differentiate it from the later licensed Namco version, is unauthorized by Nintendo, and unlike the Namco version, isn’t a mere port but instead is an enhanced remake of the original arcade game. Ms. Pac-Man must collect pellets and fruit, all while avoiding the four ghosts Blinky, Inky, Pinky, and Sue. Turn the tables when you eat one of the Power Pellets and temporarily gain the ability to devour your pursuers!

Why you should play it

Ms. Pacman, produced by Tengen  in their black cart NES-10 free carts is vastly superior to the officially licensed Namco version released years later in the twilight years of the NES in America. You can play through 36 unique mazes that offer just a ton of verity. Some mazes are very small and fit to the aspect ratio of the TV, while others are the same size as the tate arcade monitors and therefore scroll, while others still are even larger and stranger. There are multiple difficulty settings, as well as an option for the “Pac-Booster” which basically allows you to run while you have a button held down. Still not convinced this is the best version of Pac-Man on any 8-bit console? Plug in a second controller and two can play cooperatively as Ms. Pacman and Pacman at once!

#83

Kickle Cubicle

1990

Irem

Action Puzzle

Price range: $6-8

Difficulty: 6

 

The Wicked Wizard King has covered the kingdom with ice and hid the people and palaces deep within the ice. Armed with his freezing breath, a young warrior named Kickle sets out to save his friends and attempts to rescue the kingdom from this puzzling predicament of perpetual winter.

Why you should play it

Yet another arcade adaption, Kickle Cubicle on the NES was just as good as it was in the arcades, if not even better. The game is a lot like Hudson’s Adventures of Lolo series but with a greater emphasis on action rather than pure puzzle solving, Irem’s classic can become challenging in later levels but never to the point where you’ll want to turn the game off – the difficulty spikes are manageable.  There are dozens of stages across four worlds filled with enemies, candy tricks and traps that keep the game fresh and one you’ll return to again and again.

Fun Fact

The Famicom counterpart is considerably harder with more enemies and obstacles scattered throughout the game, but it also allows players to pick and choose the stages they play in whatever order they choose. This feature was mysteriously absent in the NES build.

#82

Balloon Fight

1985

Nintendo

Fixed screen arcade action

Price range: $6-8

Difficulty: 4

In Balloon Fight you need to fly around with the aid of two balloons and try to pop your opponents balloons before they pop yours. Landing on top of your opponents will cause their balloon to pop and they will use a parachute to fall to safety. You then need to destroy the fallen opponent by running into it before it can blow up a new balloon and rejoin the battle. Should both of your balloons get popped, you will fall into the water below and lose a life. There is also a second game variation called “balloon trip” where you need to collect as many balloons as possible while avoiding the ocean below and lightning which forms maze like walls.

Why you should play it

The simple, pick-up-and-play nature of Balloon Fight  ensures that kids, adults, causal and hardcore gamers alike will enjoy a few minutes with this game. The co-op feature is a ton of fun and Balloon Fight is one early Famicom game I return to again and again. Balloon Fight is one of the most ageless 8-bit classics.

Fun Fact

Already a perfect game for arcades, Balloon Fight was later available in both Nintendo VS Cabinets and the Play-Choice 10 Arcade Machines. Balloon Fight also spawned a GameBoy sequel called Balloon Kid which focused on sidescrolling platforming. The game was successful, and in 2000 a GameBoy Color remake called Balloon Fight GB was released in Japan.

Oh and also this. That’s all I’ll say.

My original video review

#81

The Little Mermaid

1991

Capcom

Platformer

Price range: $6-8

Difficulty: 5Ariel has already met Eric, and they plan to wed, but the sea-witch Ursala has taken control of the ocean! So Ariel (After explaining what’s going on to Eric) becomes a mermaid once more and sets off to rescue the sea.

Why you should play itOne of the many excellent Disney-Capcom games, The Little Mermaid is of course only loosely based on the film of the same name, but don’t take that to anything negative. Although the film was primarily intended for young girls (Ariel being one of the most easily recognized Disney Princesseses) the Capcom game can be played by anyone who enjoys excellent sidescrollers. Due to their experience with the hardware, the team at Capcom managed to tax the NES to its limits producing some truly beautiful undersea environments that still manage to impress today. If you passed on this thinking it would be a girls-only game, give it a try. It’s got great visuals, audio and controls, interesting gameplay and its not very difficult. The game’s challenge is entirely optional making the trip through the game worthwhile for any oldschool gamer.

Fun Fact

ROM hackers, ever the naughty devils they are, produced a graphics hack for this game that removes Ariel’s top and entitled the hack to be “Naked Little Mermaid, The”. Everyone shown in the cutscenes is also depicted nude. Of course, this means you’ll be seeing Eric and worse, Ursula….

For a generation who grew up with The Little mermaid, there’s the hilarious Hipster Ariel meme.

#80

Mendel Palace

1989

GameFreak

Action-Puzzle

Price range: $2-6

Difficulty: 5

In Mendel Palace, you are Bun-Bun and you have to rescue your girlfriend Candy, who has fallen asleep and is now trapped in her dream. To progress, you have to go through various areas that feature dolls as enemies. Games are played on a board of 7×5 sliding tiles, using an overhead view. By sliding floor tiles, you’ll be able to put them off balance and make the crash in the wall, leading to their destruction.

Why you should play it

Mendel Palace is packed with small details and delicate character animation, and the aesthetics can still impress. Gameplay, meanwhile, is deceptively simple and drags you in – you’re soon kicking cards around to collection bonus items and trying to splat enemies against the walls. To call it an action-based puzzle game would be a very loose description as there’s nothing else quite like it.

Fun fact

Released in Japan as Quinty by then small developer GameFreak, this was the very first game designed by Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri. The Japanese game’s plot is simpler than the North American version, with the player’s girlfriend simply being kidnapped rather than some princess named Candy. As far as I can tell, this was GameFreak’s only Famicom game.

#79

Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll

1989

Rare

Action

Price range: $4-6

Difficulty: 8

It’s a race to the moon for the two snakes, Rattle and Roll! As Rattle or Roll, eat as many balls (called Nibbley Pibblies apparently) as you can to grow longer and heavier. Once you’re heavy enough, make your way to the scales and escape out the exit door. Can you make it all the way to the moon? The game offers a two player co-op mode.

Why you should play it

One of the most beloved NES Rare games, Snake Rattle ‘n Roll continues the Rare tradition – the game looks amazing with a huge attention to the way sprites animate, but smooth controls and a reasonable challenge are secondary traits the developer never really got around to. Indeed, Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll suffers from what can only be described as slippery controls and difficulty spikes that can be called unfair and raise the level of frustration beyond many retro gamer’s limits.  Even still, I really do like Snake Rattle ‘n Roll. Those who stick with it will find Rare’s isometric action game where snakes eat balls and attack random enemies (like feet, fungi and toilet seats just to name a few) to be one worth a look at. If you’re frustrated easily, tread carefully. Or use GameGenie. Games like this just aren’t made anymore.

Fun Fact

Snake Rattle ‘n Roll was later ported to the Sega MegaDrive in Europe only. The concept of the game originated from Rare’s small programming team who set out to try and make their next hit using the smallest ROM chips they could get away with. Due to clever tile recycling and other techniques to reduce file size, Snake Rattle ‘n Roll, released to critical acclaim in 1989, used only two 256 kilobit (as in, 32 KB) ROM chips, no doubt ensuring maximum profits condescending the low manufacturing costs.

#78

Golgo 13 The Mafat Conspiracy

1990

Vic Tokai

Action/Shooter

Price range: $4-6

March, 1990. After a highly advanced, experimental American Strategic Defense satellite crashes into the alps, threatening letters are sent to Washington and the Kremlin, signed by a terrorist organization known as the Mafat Revolutionary Group. The Mafat organization claims to possess an important top western scientist as a hostage, as well as technology to bring both the United States and the Soviet Union to their knees.

After demanding the US provide a nuclear armed submarine and the Soviet Union turn over research on the military application of electromagnetic waves, the  CIA seeks out the legendary assassin Duke Togo, aka Golgo 13. The CIA hire Golgo 13 to eliminate the leaders of the Mafat organization, rescue the kidnapped scientist, and destroy the Mafat’s super weapon. All in a day’s work for the world’s greatest sharpshooter.

Why you should play it

The sequel to Golgo 13: Top Secret Episode, The Mafat Conspiracy is an improvement in nearly every aspect. Most of the same game elements from Top Secret Episode are still present – platforming stages, 3D mazes, sniping missions and more, but nearly all of it feels tighter and better executed. Instead of the vaguely terrible shump sections and difficult first person encounters, there are now driving sections that play akin to Rad Racer and less frustrating 3D mazes.

On the other hand, don’t expect this game to be anywhere close to easy. the 3D mazes absolutely require maps (found in either the manual or on gamefaqs) and the sniping this time around is made considerably harder as the player needs to account for wind speed and direction when lining up their shots. The game doesn’t explain how to do this, and even the manual is vague about it. If you’re interested in this game but just can’t get the hang of how to snipe in Mafat Conspiracy, check out the video below. Be warned, the person explaining it spoils the ending in his rant, so only watch if you either already know what happens or  don’t care.

Fun Fact

At the time the game was released, the world was still heavily seeped in the Cold War, which would end only a matter of months later with the beginnings of the collapse of the Soviet Union. When that happened, The Mafat Conspiracy began to be discounted in many retailers who worried the game’s appeal would quickly dwindle. By the end of the NES era, both Top Secret Episode and the Mafat Conspiracy could be found anywhere that sold NES games new for $19.99 or less.  Even now amongst Cold War era collectables, complete copies of either Golgo 13 NES games can found for around that $20 price.

How to get past the sniper levels

#77Bonk’s Adventure

1993

Hudson

Action Platformer

Price range: $50-100

Difficulty: 6

Join Bonk on his all-new adventures as he travels through the savage Dinosaur Land in search of the beautiful Moon Princess Za, who was kidnapped by Bonk’s old nemesis King Drool. Now Bonk has to use his head (literally) to save the princess and the kingdom. Use powerful head-butts to blast King Drool’s fools off of the map. Spring off the local wild flowers to gain altitude on your enemies. Knock heads with nasty beasts and strange critters to prove who’s king of the jungle! Explore an incredible realm filled with monsters, traps and the toughest kid from prehistoric times, Bonk!
Why you should play it
A very late NES release, Bonk’s Adventure is a backport of one of TurboGrfx 16’s biggest hits. The NES version obviously couldn’t produce the same level of details the powerful NEC hardware could, but the port is incredibly well done nevertheless. What first appears to be an average platformer, Bonk’s Adventure’s gimmick is that Bonk bashes his foes using his forehead as Mario uses his boots. The visual presentation is top-notch amongst NES platformers and the music is pleasant and enjoyable. The game allows you to simply pick up from where you died if you loose all your health, which is very handy indeed. If you want a copy, be prepared to shell out some major cash. Because of its rarity, loose, cart only copies typically sell for over $100. If you just want to give it a try, I suggest Retrozone’s Powerpak. Check out my review for more info.
Fun Fact
Bonk was originally created as a comic character named PC Caveman(Genjin), in Japanese magazine ads for the PC Engine. So many people liked the character that there were talks held on giving him a game of his own. In addition to this, many people even mistook him for an upcoming game character even before his game was in development, because of his frequent appearances in ads of upcoming games.
Original Commercial (TG-16 version)

#76Super Mario World

1995

Hummer Team

Platformer

Price range: ?

Difficulty: 6

While on holiday to Yoshi’s Island, once again, the evil Bowser has captured Princess Toadstool. It’s up to Mario to save her. To aid him in his quest, Mario must use the flying ability of the feather to get him to places hard to reach. But what’s even more important is his new friend, the dinosaur Yoshi, who Mario can ride through each level and eat the enemies.

Why you should play it

This is a pirated Famicom conversion of Super Mario World released out of Hong Kong sometime in the mid 90s. With a total of 28 stages, it’s easily one of the longest pirated platformers out there. As you can tell from the screenshots above, it’s also completely gorgeous. Although everything was taken from the 16-bit version, this pirate is a benchmark for how good pirated games can look. It’s not perfect, as there’s a nasty problem with the game’s engine that if Mario jumps from full speed he will suddenly slow down to a walking pace. This can easily be corrected using the GameGenie code YUSUPLAZ. Check out the gameplay video below to see this pirated gem in action.

Fun Fact

Although it is highly sought after, this pirate is extremely rare. I’ve only had the opportunity to play it in emulator, and given that it’s a mapper 90 Chinese pirate, a reproduction is out of the question because of its exclusive mapper. If anyone has or knows of the full version, please contact me. This is one I really want to buy.

#75Bionic Commando

1988

Capcom

Platformer

Price range: $6-8

Difficulty: 6

Many years ago, an enormous war was held between two great powers. The first one was the evil Empire “The Badds”, who wanted nothing else than to take over the world and rule it with strong dictatorship. Against them was the Federation, an organization who fought for peace and democracy, and did all they could to stop the Empire’s plans. Eventually, after a long battle, the Federation won, and the Empire was put back for a while, reforming their battle units.Recently, some top secret Badd Empire plans were found by the Federation. The plans described a very detailed construction process of a terrifying and deadly new super weapon flying fortress called “The Albatross”. However, the plans were scrapped when the person with the key knowledge, Master-D, was killed.Now, the Empire’s new leader, general Killt, reformed his army and the Badds are once again a threat to world peace. Killt also started top secret research projects in order to finish The Albatross. Although the chances for these plans to succeed looked slim, the Federation didn’t take any risks. If The Albatross was ever to be completed, chaos would rise in the world. They sent out one of their best soldiers, Super Joe, to infiltrate the Badds’ mainland, and stop the Empire’s plans.Unfortunately, the Federation lost contact with Super Joe. Presumed to be alive  but captive, and held captive the Federation decided to send out one of their best new soldiers Rad Spenser. Trained in solo operations and equipped with a cybernetic bionic arm, Spenser sets out on the battlefield.

Why you should play it

Bionic Commando is a game that broke molds. It was a platformer you couldn’t jump in. It had areas where you weren’t suppose to shoot the bad guys. Shooting itself was only secondary to actions preformed with your bionic arm. In all of these ways Bionic Commando stands as a unique gem. The plot of the game as you can tell is rather ridiculous, but its wholly enjoyable. From the way your bionic arm controls your movement to the weapon upgrades and amazing music, this one truly stands the test of time. If you know the game only from its current gen remake Bionic Command Rearmed, give the NES version a shot. Likewise, if you only know the NES version, give Rearmed a shot. Both are amazing.

Fun Fact

Instead of the silly censored plot the US version of the game carries, the Japanese version clearly states the Badds to be the Nazis and the Federation to be the Allied Nations. The Nazi plot is to complete the albatross and revive Hitler. In fact, regardless of what his name is in-game, in both the Japanese and US releases, the final boss is Hitler himself. Not particularity shocking today, this was a rare move for a videogame to do at the time and is yet another reason why Bionic Commando stands out amongst so many others of its day.

#74

Dig Dug

1985

Namco

Arcade

Price range: $4-12

Difficulty: 5

Create your own maze as you tunnel fearlessly through the earth. Your goal: Reap tasty vegetables worth healthy points. Your enemies: ghosts who want to bury you alive, fierce fire-breathing dragons, and mean balloon-like bullies! Can you dig it? Here’s the exciting home version of the celebrated coin-op original!

 

Why you should play it

Another perfect example of how well arcade games of its era could be ported to the Famicom, Namco’s Dig Dug is a truly excellent retro game that stands up wonderfully even to this day. Strangely released only in Japan, there is no official NES counterpart of the original Dig Dug, but like most early Famicom games, the Famicom Dig Dug can frequently be found on just about any NES multicart out there. I recommend tracking down a physical cart if possible as well as this is one of the best home console versions of the classic bike pump murderer classic out there.

Batshit insane Arcade version Commerical

Fun Fact

You can track your level progression by looking at the flowers on the surface at the top of the screen. Small flowers represent the ones, and the big flowers are the tens. I’m not actually sure what happens when you exceed level 99. I wonder if there’s a kill screen like in Duck Hunt? I’d love to find out someday!

#73Mechanized Attack

1990

SNK

Lightgun

Price range: $6-8

Difficulty: 6

At first, it looked like just another revolution. But reports have come in that the rebel forces are backed by an unusual array of high-tech weaponry – and that the rebel soldiers may actually be a fearsome new breed of fighting robots! If this revolution succeeds, the safety of the entire world may be threatened… And that’s where you come in. You must attempt to infiltrate the island base of the rebel forces. But before you even reach the shore, you’ll have to contend with enemy gunboats, frogmen, choppers, and destroyers. If you make it to the island, you’ll find it patrolled by enemy soldiers armed with machine guns, daggers and grenades; vicious attack dogs; and lethal airborne probes, programmed to destroy intruders on sight. Other unknown dangers lie in wait as well. You haven’t got a minute to waste. Pick up your controller or Zapper or both – it’s time to launch your MECHANIZED ATTACK!

Why you should play it

Although Mechanized Attack may seem similar to Taito’s Operation Wolf, this game is much, much better. When you first shoot at many of the games’ enemies, their skins will fall out revealing them to be Terminator like robots that are a hell of a lot more fun to shoot than random soldiers. While the arcade version of Mechanized Attack had a miniature machine gun replica for the player to use, this NES adaptation attempts to reproduce the feel by allowing the player to hold down the Zapper trigger for automatic fire or simply use the controller. Either way works amazingly well. Unlike Operation Wolf where ammo was in constant short supply, extra ammo in Mechanized Attack is plentiful. The best way to play the game is to hold the Zapper in one hand with your other hand to the controller to throw grenades or missiles as needed. This is easily the best zapper game on the system.

Fun Fact

SNK, one of the industry’s major powerhouses in arcade game hardware, produced several NES games before striking out on their own with their incredibly powerful Neo-Geo Multi Video System and Advanced Entertainment System hardware. Many of their NES ports were top-notch, and Mechanized Attack is no exception. This is perhaps the developer’s best lightgun game.

 

 

#72

Air Fortress

1989

HAL Laboratories

Shoot ’em Up/Platformer

Price range: $2-6

Difficulty: 5

The inhabitants of the planet Farmel have long lived in peace. They have traveled all around the galaxy in their advanced spacecrafts called lightships. Then one day the peace was disturbed with the arrival of mysterious fortresses built upon asteroids. These fortresses appeared to be alive and began destroying all other civilizations.The Federation of intergalactic powers organized defense forces immediately, but were no math for the superior defenses of the Air Fortress armada. With the next target being the peaceful planet Farmel itself, the Federation decided to select a specially trained soldier, ID2592 named Hal Bailman to infiltrate and destroy each fortress from within. Now Hal departs to destroy the Air Fortresses and save Farmel.
Why you should play it

As I stated in my ReviewAir Fortress is one of the most unique games on the NES and is one that every retro gamer should check out. Perhaps one could even say it was ahead of its time as no other game ever copied and perfected the design. Even though it wasn’t extremely successful, HAL was brave to try something different and that is why I feel it is worth a second look now. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but Air Fortress is one blend of Retro awesomeness you should try at least once.

Original Commerical

#71Bomberman 2

1991

Hudson

Action

Price range: $40-60

Difficulty: 5

Explosive action spotlights this riveting game of split-second timing and really short fuses! Bomberman’s back – this time with new power-up items that enhance this classic seek-and-destroy adventure! It’s all-out fun for the whole family as you hunt monsters (or each other) in a non-stop bomb-dropping frenzy! The one-player mode has over 50 levels of intense gameplay! Find the right strategy and blow the mangy critters to smithereens! You can also take on one or two of your friends in heated competition to see who among you can earn the title of Supreme Bomberman! Secret Bonus Rounds add mega-points and extra lives to your score! Uncover hidden bonus items for super bombs and fantastic firepower!
Why you should play it
Bomberman II is very similar to the original Bomberman, but with much improved graphics, audio and yes, even gameplay.If you’ve ever played Bomberman, you know what to expect. You’re in a maze filled with breakable blocks that you explode to gain power ups, kill enemies, and expose the exit door. If you’re good enough to not die as you play, you can eventually become ridiculously powerful, which makes the game a blast to play, no pun intended!
Fun Fact
Bomberman II is one of the few NES games that supports the FourScore adapter, a multitap that allows up to four controllers be plugged into an NES at once. Nevertheless, likely due to hardware limitations, only up to three players can play at once, with a fourth player needing to switch after every match. The game’s somewhat rare so if you come across it, make sure you don’t pass on it!
#70Journey to Silius1990

Sunsoft

Action

Price range: $8-12

Difficulty: 7

It is the year 0373 New Space Age (NSA). Earth’s overpopulation crisis has led to demand for space colonies across all of known space. Jay McCray, son of a prolific colony scientist, has decided to move to Silius Space Colony #428 when his father is appointed leader of the colony and it’s future development. However, when reports of strange robots appearing all over the Silius station is quickly followed by a massive explosion that nearly destroys the colony, Jay’s world is shattered. His father was killed in the blast leaving few clues and the media to report the explosion as a mere accident.
Searching for answers on Earth, Jay find’s a floppy disk in his father’s room. Examining the contents, Jay discovers the disk not only contains his father’s complete plans for the future development of the future colonies, but also a personal message to Jay written by his father in case of his death. “Terrorists are plotting to destroy the colony development. If anything  happens to me, you must complete the project.” In order to protect the remaining people of Silius colony #428 and avenge his father’s death, Jay McCray suits up and arms himself for battle  on his solo journey to Silius.
Why you should play it
Journey to Silius is an incredible game in many respects. Made by Sunsoft, the audio/visual presentation is unbelievably high – Journey to Silius is probably in the top 10 best looking NES games ever. From the varied and colorful locales to the huge imposing bosses, everything that you see in the game is simply stunning. As great as the visuals are though, not enough can ever be said on how incredible the music. Instead of just including a gameplay video, please watch this incredible remix collection produced by the very talented Dj Axis, circa 2007 when he was on ScrewAttack’s Retro Remix.
As far as gameplay goes, most of the platforming is simple and straightforward, but the ability to change your weapons on the fly is helpful and makes the game less boring. Not that you’ll have the opportunity to be bored – as you would expect from an NES Sunsoft game, Journey to Silius is quite difficult. I recommend the use of a turbo controller to help deal with some of the game’s dicier areas filled with enemies.
Fun Fact

Originally, Journey to Silius was intended to be a Terminator themed game, hence the robots, the environments and the moody music. When they were not able to obtain the license however, Sunsoft changes slight elements, created an original sci-fi story and green lit the project. The North American version, released after the Japanese one, uses a main sprite actually used in the original beta. When Journey to Silius was released in Europe, the correct sprite was used, making the US version the odd one out.

DJ Axis’ Amazing Journey to Silius Retro Remix

#69Star Trek: The Next Generation

1993

Absolute Entertainment

Simulation

Price range: $15-25

Difficulty: 5

Region: North America only

Cadets at Starfleet Academy must spend some of their classes in the starship simulator. This year is a simulation of the U.S.S. Enterprise. Substituting for Jean-Luc Picard, cadets will take the role of captain and then must access different crew members (functions of the ship) to complete a series of scripted missions.

Star Trek: The Next Generation is divided into a series of missions. Players will start on the main screen of the bridge and from there can access Navigation, Tactical, Operations, Engineering, Transporter Systems and Mission Control. Mini-games are sometimes used to complete certain ship functions (such as rerouting power to the shields).

Why you should play it

I’m not at all ashamed to admit that I’m a Trekker. If you grew up in the early 90s, it’s almost a foregone conclusion that you watched Star Trek: The Next Generation. One of the biggest shows of the decade, TNG was just something special and paved the path for three more series and another five movies. In regards to this game, the simulation of command actually transfers to the NES quite well. Unlike the disjointed TOS 25th Anniversary game, TNG manages to always be exciting by giving the player meaningful and enjoyable tasks such as escort missions, colony evacuations, and yes, space battles. The graphics are great for NES standards and the game has excellent controls. If you’re a fan of TNG (and why shouldn’t you be?) track this one down.

Fun fact

With the exception of the final mission against the Borg, all the missions in the game are randomly generated thus providing quite a bit of replay value.  The final battle against the Borg where you destroy them using a virus was actually later explored in Star Trek Voyager when a biological agent was carried by children who purposely were infected and allowed to be assimilated.

#68Hi no Tori – Houou Hen – Gaou no Bouken

1987

Konami

Platformer

Price range: $6-12

Difficulty: 5

Region: Japan only

Hi no Tori – Houou Hen – Gaou no Bouken is based on the manga by the godfather of manga, the famed Osamu Tezuka (creator of Astroboy, Kimba the White Lion, Metropolis, etc etc). Based on the fifth manga volume, Gaou no Bouken tells the story of Gaou, an ugly man who lost an arm and an eye as a baby and treated harshly by all those around him his entire life. Angry and resentful, Gaou does whatever is necessary to survive, including murder if necessary.

However, he reveres nature and will go out of his way to save the smallest insect’s life. Along his travels, he meets a monk who changes his perspective on life and teaches him to tap into his innate talent to carve and sculpt. His creations are unrivaled in terms of the raw emotion that they communicate. One day Gaou learns of the mystical phoenix, who has the power to heal and whose blood grands immortality to anyone who should drink it.

Why you should play it

What makes Gaou an interesting character is his weapon of choice – chisels. He can either fire them at enemies or use them to sculpt gargoyle heads and use them as instant platforms. There are many chests to open filled with treasures that help Gaou on his quest for the legendary phoenix including a mirror that not only makes Gaou invincible, but also capable of traveling through anything for a short period, including solid walls. The stages are extremely linear and although there are a total of sixteen of them, some of the stages are repeats of earlier stage,s making the environments you’ll explore somewhat boring and repetitive. Still, Hi no Tori is an overall unique and enjoyable Famicom exclusive worth importing.

Fun fact

Roughly translated as Phoenix – Firebird volume: Gaou’s Adventure, Konami’s platformer was highly successful and lead them to create Famicom games of other Tezuka properties, most notably Astroboy, based on the 1980 anime series. Even still, none were able to quite capture what made Hi no Tori special and it remains the best of all the Famicom anime based games.

#67The Clash at Demonhead

1989

Vic Tokai

Platformer

Price range: $4-6

Difficulty: 7

Region: All

 

Due to his excellent tactician skills, Commander Billy “Big Bang” Blitz of the Special Assault Brigade for Real Emergencies (S.A.B.E.R) Command helped bring a swift end to the war against the savage Demon’s Battalion, earning the respect of his peers. Rather than accept a promotion, Bang instead opted to simply retire and take a relaxing vacation with his girlfriend Mary. However, Bang’s peace would be short-lived. Bang suddenly receives an urgent message from S.A.B.E.R Command. The remnants of the Demon’s Battalion have kidnapped Professor Plum, the inventor of the Doomsday Bomb, and are holding him in the dreaded Deadhead mountain range. Knowing the world is in grave danger, Bang quickly springs back into action, leaving his girlfriend Mary alone and prime for capture…

Why you should play it

The Clash at Demonhead is not a typical platformer at all. Borrowing elements from Metroid and Castlevanaia 2, Clash at Demonhead still largely does its own thing that no other game on the NES or otherwise has ever replicated completely. The game is nonlinear, broken up into several dozen various routes that, just like Metroid, drop you at the start without any idea on where to go or what to do. Therefore, a good chuck of the first few times you play this forgotten classic, you should simply explore the world and takes notes about what each area has, since many NPCs will bombard you with information and unless you’re planning on spending a month or longer on Clash at Demonhead, there is no way you’ll ever remember all the important details without jotting down notes.The graphics are somewhat dull and the music is repetitive, but it isn’t too tough and you’ll eventually figure out where you’re suppose to be going if you stick with it and write things down as you play. Clash at Demonhead is a great classic everyone should give a chance.

Fun fact

In the incredible graphic novel series Scott Pilgrim, the name of the Scott’s ex-girlfriend’s band is in is The Clash at Demonhead. This was evidently named so because it was the first game series creator Bryan Lee O’Mailley ever played. The band was also featured prominently in the excellent Scott Pilgrim Vs the World film, preforming “Black Sheep” by the real Toronto band Metric. If you somehow missed the film, check out the song below.

#66Holy Diver

1989

Irem

Platformer

Price range: $20-25

Difficulty: 9

Region: Japan only

The world is on the brink of chaos and evil roams the land freely. Randy, the Holy Diver, sets out to retrieve the five emblem seals belonging to the King Crimson Family in order to expel the greatest evil, the Black Slayer, back into another dimension.

Why you should play it

A mix between Castlevania and Contra, Holy Diver is a great looking Famicom exclusive with excellent controls and good music. That said, Holy Diver is also among the hardest games on the system. The platforming is demanding of precise movement but isn’t overly difficult on its own. The real challenge comes from the fact that enemies are everywhere and relentlessly attack you constantly. Even given the excellent play control and ability to shoot up as well as to the sides and crouch, you’ll still constantly find yourself completely surrounded by your foes all the time. I recommend this game, but only to those who have a high tolerance to the unique way NES games can kick your ass.

Fun fact

Holy Diver was actually scheduled for release in North America, but like so many others, was cancelled leaving this platformer a Japan only release. Probably all for the best anyway; given Nintendo’s censorship policy of the time, the constant reference to demons and the underworld would likely be changed to pixies spreading rainbows and flowers. Yay.

If the name Holy Diver sounds familiar, you’re probably thinking of the 1983 Dio album Holy Diver, and the title track of the same name. The Famicom game by Irem may or may not be a reference to the song, so you’ll need to decide for yourself.

#65Bucky O’Hare

1992

Konami

Platformer

Price range: 12-15

Difficulty: 8

Region: All

Captain Bucky O’Hare and his loyal crew – Blinky, Deadeye, Jenny and Willy – fight to save the Aniverse from the scourge of the Toad Armada. That is, until Bucky’s ship is attacked and his crew taken prisoner. Now a lone bunny on a mission, Bucky must fight to rescue his comrades from four hostile planets and then confront the Air Marshall on his flagship.

Why you should play it

One of Konami’s later NES efforts, Bucky O’Hare is gorgeous. It pulls out every trick in the book – multi-layered moving platforms of parallax scrolling goodness, huge screen filling bosses, multiple playable characters, destructible environments and even the ability to choose the order you play the stages. The music is also really good, and is up there in terms of underrated NES soundtracks. However, even though this game is based on a kids show, this game is incredibly difficult. Stages are full of relentless enemies, instant death hazards and often unpredictable elements such as lava flows, rushing water or falling rocks. You’ll have to take full advantage of all the playable characters various abilities to have a chance of seeing this one through.

Fun fact

Originally a short-lived comic book series from 1978, the NES version of Bucky O’Hare is largely based on the short-lived animated cartoon from 1991 which lasted only a single season, producing a total of 13 episodes. Despite it’s brief existence, the cartoon spawned a toyline, this NES forgotten classic, and a rather decent arcade game, also produced by Konami in 1992. Check out the opening sequence for the cartoon that’s 90s in every sense of the word. My dear Bucky O’Hare, the world may have forgotten you, but I for one have not.

#64

Metal Storm

1990

Irem

Platformer

Price range: $15-25

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

In the 26th Century, mankind has colonized the solar system. On distant Pluto base, the solar system’s defense outpost, all is not well. A gigantic robot controlled laser cannon created to defend Earth from alien invaders has turned against mankind. All attempts at activating the Base’s self-destruct device have failed. In control a M-308 Gunner Mecha, a lone soldier must storm Pluto Base’s seven levels and destroy the outpost. Not only will the M-308 Gunner have to battle mobs of robotic defenders, but also have to puzzle its way through the Bases’ maze-like corridors.

Why you should play it

The big draw of Metal Storm is its gravity control system, which allows the player to reverse gravity of their mecha at the touch of a button. Specifically, pressing Up+A reverses gravity, and then Down+A reverts it to normal. This allows for some spectacular jumps, and also very creative level design. Stage one acts as a practice stage to let you get the hang of the controls, and as the game progresses more and more difficult obstacles and stages will be thrown your way making Metal Storm anything but a typical platformer.

Fun fact

I distinctly remember scale models of the M-308 Gunner were sold in the early 90s. I unfortunately can’t seem to find any images of these online, but trust me, they’re out there. In fact, a photo of the model was featured on the cover of Nintendo Power issue #22 with additional photos of the commercially sold model scattered throughout the coverage of Metal Storm in their walkthough in that issue.

Metal Storm directly inspired Wayforward’s unerrated GBC gem, Wendy: Every Witch Way. Click the hyperlink to read my detailed review. If you like Metal Storm, you’ll like Wendy.

#63Panic Restaurant

1992

Taito

Platformer

Price range: $25-40

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

All is going well for a Chef named Cookie until a rival chef named Hors d’oeuvre steals away Cookie’s restaurant. To get it back, Cookie must battle hordes of sentient carrots, cooked chickens, kabobs, hot dogs, and other food items. It makes about as much sense as it sounds.

Why you should play it

Panic Restaurant is a colorful platformer released by Taito in 1992. Taito made many excellent NES games in the system’s golden years, and this one is no exception. Featuring excellent cartoony visuals with fluid animation, great controls and enjoyable music, Panic Restaurant may not do anything special, but its a thoroughly enjoyable NES classic work tracking down, despite its rarity and price.

Fun fact

The Japanese version of Panic Restaurant features a completely different protagonist – a young chef who attacks enemies by default using his head. This was changed to a stereotypical chef boyardee look-alike for the North American version, and also the super pot item that makes you invincible was added. For those who want the game but don’t want to shell out the major cash, you can buy a reproduction that features the original Japanese character for less than it costs to buy the normal release!

#62Magical Doropie

1990

Vic Tokai

Platformer

Price range: $6-8

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

Once upon a time, long long ago, the world was experiencing great ruin. Enormous animals were bestowed upon the earth to create terrible pain and hardship for the people. The people were desperate, so they called upon the Old Witches’ World for help.

Thence came Francesca Doropie, a gracious witch with great powers. She fought and saved the world from these terrible creatures. The land began to flourish again and the people worked peacefully together to rebuild their wonderful cities. All was well.

The Akuon Empire chose the year 1999 in which to stage an invasion of earth. The planet’s defenses were no match for the alien robot invaders. Fortunately, a witch named Doropie has taken it upon herself to single-handedly free mankind from this scourge.

Why you should play it

Heavily influenced by the Megaman games (many elements are outright “borrowed” or “stolen”, in fact), Magical Doropie manages to excell where other Vic Tokai NES games fail in having perfect play control. The game is so incredibly similar to Megaman 2 you could make a drinking game out of every time you notice a similarity, but considering how excellent Megaman 2 is, any clone can’t be all that bad.

Fun fact

I’ve constantly been referring to this game as Magical Doropie, but that’s actually the name of the Famicom version. The game was released for the NES in the west as the Krion Conquest. The Famicom build, as you’d expect, is the better game, with expanded story cutscenes that better explain what the hell’s going on. The name “Doropie” is a reference to Dorthy from the Wizard of Oz. The Guilty Gear character I-No bears a striking resemblance to Doropie.

#61

Jackal

1988

Konami

Shooter

Price range: $6-8

Difficulty: 8

Region: AllThe enemy army has captured too many of your forces. Being held in P.O.W. camps, these soldiers are effectively out of the war… unless some kind of rescue operation can be mounted. Heavy Forces are too slow and visible to be of any use, but perhaps something smaller and lighter may make it in where larger forces would fail. A small jeep, maybe two, crewed by about 4 people…. minimal enough not to represent too much of a loss and yet suitable enough to aid in rescue. But of course, if these brave men want to succeed AND come back alive; they’ll need to fight like animals… they’ll need to fight like jackals…

Why you should play it

Released by Konami in 1988, Jackal is really, really good. Konami’s take on the vertical shooter genre like Ikari Warriors or Commando, Jackal puts players in control or a light jeep against tremendous odds. You can upgrade your weaponry from grenades all the way up to explosive missiles, but the real tension comes from how vulnerable you are to attack, since throughout the entire game, one hit is all it takes to total your vehicle. It’s a simple fun game where you can run over enemy foot soldiers, blow out walls in P.O.W camps and destroy battleships with a Jeep. Oh, and did I mention it’s two player co-op?

Fun Fact

Originally released for the Famicom Disk System entitled Final Command: Akai Yousai, the North American NES counterpart Jackal is one of the few FDS games that actually was improved upon when it made its way overseas.The reason the NES version is superior is because of its bankswitching capabilities. The Famicom/NES hardware was designed with a mere 2K of system RAM, but can accesss up to 32K of additional RAM from the cartridge to create more complex game worlds. Using bankswitching techniques, highly advanced games were possible on Nintendo’s hardware that otherwise would never be possible. Jackal employs bankswitching to provide long varied and detailed levels filled with many enemy types. Meanwhile though, the Famicom Disk System provides only a single bank of 32K RAM for the entire game, meaning bankswitching on the fly was not possible. As a result, the FDS version of Jackal has shorter levels that are only one screen wide. To get around this limitation, many other FDS games required users to flip to the side of the disk, which would load in a new 32K RAM, essentially making the bankswitch mechanism the players themselves. it is for this reason some of the more lengthy FDS titles such as Famicom Detective Club Part II spanned four disks.

#60

Megaman 1

1987

Capcom

Platformer

Price range: $15-25

Difficulty: 7

It is the year 200X. The world’s formost authority on robotics, Dr. Tomas Light and his lab assistant, Dr. Albert Wily have succeeded in creating the world’s first industrial humanoid robots. When Light gets sole credit for the accomplishment, Dr. Wily becomes enraged with jealousy and secretly steals and reprograms all six of the industrial robots to destroy. Left only with his lab assistant Rock and his cleaner robot Roll, Dr. Light finds himself unable to do anything to stop Dr. Wily.

Rock, having a strong sense of justice, volunteers to be converted into a fighting robot capable of stopping his robotic brothers and foiling Dr. Wily’s evil plans. Thus the super fighting robot Megaman was born.

Why you should play it

Megaman 1 is one of my all time favorite games. As I stated in my review, Megaman 1 is a timeless classic that belongs in any retro gamer’s collection, as well as any fan of great action games. The game is fairly tough for new players, but the outstanding music, visuals, control and open-ended gameplay make it a game you’ll want to return to again and again. The weapon changing ability introduced in Megaman was outstanding and added so much fun and verity I can’t even begin to cover it all in a single paragraph. Fight Rockman! For Everlasting Peace!

This concludes part 4 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.

#59

Ganbare Goemon 2

1989

Konami

Beat ’em Up

Price range: $15-20

Difficulty: 5

Region: Japan only

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.

Fun fact

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.

#58

Double Dragon

1988

Technos

Beat ’em Up

Price range: $4-8

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

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.

Why you should play it

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.

Fun fact

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.

#57

Super Mario Bros. 2

1986

Nintendo R&D1

Platformer

Price range: $30-45

Difficulty: 10

Region: Japan only

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.

Why you should play it

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.

Fun fact

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.

#56

Kabuki Quantum Fighter

1991

Human Entertainment

Platformer

Price range: $4-6

Difficulty: 5

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!

Why you should play it

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.

Fun fact

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

#55

Takahashi Meijin no Boukenjima 4/Adventure Island 4

1994

Hudson

Platformer

Price range: $80-250

Difficulty: 6

Region: Japan only

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.

Why you should play it

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.

Fun fact

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.

#54

Shadow of the Ninja/KAGE/Blue Shadow

1990

Natsume

Platformer

Price range: $10-15

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

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.

Why you should play it

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.

Fun fact

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?

#53

Battle Kid: Fortress of Peril

2010

Sivak Games

Platformer

Price range: $30

Difficulty: 10

Region: All

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.

Why you should play it

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.

Demo Download here.

Fun fact

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.

#52

 

Batman The Videogame

1989

Sunsoft

Platformer

Price range: $2-6

Difficulty: 8

Region: All

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.

Why you should play it

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.

Fun fact

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.

#51

Megaman 4 A New Ambition!!

1991

Capcom

Platformer

Price range: $20-30

Difficulty: 5

Region: All

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!

Why you should play it

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.

Fun fact

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!

#50

Life Force

1989

Konami

Shoot ’em Up

Price range: $4-12

Difficulty: 8

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.

Fun fact

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

#49Getsu Fūma Den

1987

Konami

Platformer

Price range: $10-20

Difficulty: 9

Region: Japan only

 

In 1467, the first year of the Demon Age, a horrible demon named Ryūkotsuki, known as the “Dragon Bone Demon” was revived by his minions in hell. As Ryūkotsuki ascended to the overworld, a dark cloud came with him and swept across the land, devouring all in its path. To protect the world, skilled swordsman brothers Hatsu Fūma and Masato Fūma, armed with their legendary Hadouken “wave” swords, fought with the Dragon Bone Demon, but were defeated and killed.

Now determined to avenge his brother’s deaths, slay Ryūkotsuki, and reclaim the Hadouken sword, the last of the Fūma bloodline Getsu Fūma travels to the dark cloud and descends to the netherworld to literally stop hell from spreading over the Earth.

Why you should play it

Getsu Fūma Den is one of the many extremely enjoyable yet crushingly difficult Konami Japanese exclusives for the Famicom. A sidescroller with a heavy emphasis on exploration, the world map is massive and making ones way through the entire game is quite a challenge, even with the password system. There are shops that sell useful items as well as a rudimentary level up system that increases your attack and defense ratings, but even still, this game will kick your ass. As was popular amongst many Famicom games of the time, there are some 3D maze segments, but Getsu Fūma Den allows you to attack in a third person view that I’ve not seen any other Famicom game try.

Regardless of the extreme challenge, the music is absolutely excellent and the visuals are impressive, with large screen-filling bosses and a great veriety of locales and enemies to face on your quest to kill the evil Ryūkotsuki.

Fun fact

For those who want to experience the game in English, there’s a fairly decent fan translation available that gives you a better idea what shopkeepers say, but does nothing to alter the game’s difficulty. Although it isn’t official, many speculate that Konami’s first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game is heavily based on the Getsu Fūma Den game engine. There have never been a remake or seque, but the character of Getsu Fūma has appeared as a playable character in several other Konami games, including both Wai Wai World games and each of the modern 2D Castlevania titles and as DLC in Castlevania Harmony of Despair.

To help make the game more manageable, here’s the full game map. Click to enlarge. Credit goes to the original ripper, Bucky of VGAtlas.

#48

Zelda II: The Adventure of Link

1988

Nintendo

Platformer/RPG

Price range: $8-12

Difficulty: 8

 

Long ago, as far back as recorded history goes, lived a beautiful Princess named Zelda. The royal family of Hyrule commanded a great golden power given from the gods themselves that could literally make any wish come true. The three pieces of this power, Courage, Wisdom and Power were known collectively as the Triforce and each were kept separated in deeply secret locations known only by the King and his daughter Zelda.

Following the death of the King, Zelda’s elder brother had began his own greedy quest to find each of the missing golden pieces, but only managed to find two of the three. When he tried unsuccessfully to force Princess Zelda to reveal the location of the remaining golden power, in anger he had a wizard cast a sleeping spell so powerful it killed the wizard in the process. Despite their best efforts, the spell could not be broken by the prince nor anyone in the nation.

The prince had his sister placed in the castle tower, in the hope that one day the remaining golden power would be found and Princess Zelda could be awakened. He decreed that all future princesses born to the royal family from that point on would be named Zelda, in remembrance of this tragedy.

Many years later, the dark prince Gannon came to South Hyrule. Link slayed Gannon and freed his captive in the current Princess Zelda. This was the plot of the original Legend of Zelda.

Six months later, Link notices a triangle on the back of his left hand, which Impa recognizes as a sign that Link is destined to find the still-missing Triforce of Courage and awaken the original sleeping Zelda. Link is tasked with traveling to various palaces across North Hyrule to unlock the secret location of the Triforce and awaken Princess Zelda from her eternal slumber.  Meanwhile, the followers of Gannon are seeking to kill Link; sprinkling his blood on Ganon’s ashes would bring Ganon back to life. Link’s adventure begins.
Why you should play it
A drastic break from the original and subsequent games, Zelda II is a sidescroller action RPG that left its mark on the NES with many copycat games such as Faxanadu, Battle of Olympus and Romancia just to name a few. The game features excellent music, great controls and some pretty decent graphics for its time.
You attack enemies with your sword to gain experience points which grant bonuses to your attack strength, total health or total magic. As you progress though the game Link will find more and more magic spells that do various things like allow him to jump much higher, restore his health or turn into a small faerie to get around certain obstacles.
As great as the Zelda name would imply though, it is an extremely tough game. Easily the hardest Zelda game ever, it employs just about anything it can do to impede your progress. Enemies take a lot of damage, most don’t yield much experience, health recovery is very rare until you find the heal spell and all this says nothing to the often punishingly difficult platforming.
To be honest, I was juggling around my list trying to figure out where Zelda II should land. Zelda II gets a bad rap as the black sheep of the entire series. Some of the criticisms against it are poignant and justified, others not. Even if you disagree with this placing and feel Zelda II should fall higher up on the list, just know that I do thoroughly enjoy it and think it very well has a place amongst the best games on the system. That said, there are simply stronger titles that I feel push Zelda II to this spot and no lower.
Fun Fact
Like its predecessor, Zelda II was first developed for the Japan-only Famicom Disk System attachment. The original FDS version made use of the hardware’s wavetable synthesis with a 64-sample wave. It also supports vibrato and sweep envelopes. These capabilities were used for certain tracks, making the titlescreen music for example sound substantially better than the NES version released abroad.  In North America, just like the first Zelda, Zelda II was released in a special gold cartridge to hype up the game. For late 1987 through much of 1988, there were major chip shortages that affected production volumes of many Nintendo games including Zelda II. As such, before 1989, finding Zelda II in stores was extremely difficult, which no doubt helped fuel the demand for it and the success it would see despite its punishing difficulty.
Zelda II is also the only official numbered sequel to any Zelda games. While it’s widely speculated that Ocarina of Time lead to Wind Waker which lead to Phamtom Hourglass etc, this is the only official canon continuation featuring the same Link from a previous game.
According to the short lived Zelda comic series spun off from the Captain N comic series, Zelda II takes place just north of the Hyrule shown in the first game. Check it out! Oh, and one last thing: the also short lived Zelda cartoon spun off from the Super Mario Bros. Super Show was also largely based on Zelda II.
Incredible musical summery by indie vg duo Duane & BrandO.

#47

Super Mario Bros. 2/Super Mario USA

1988

Nintendo R&D1

Platformer

Price range: $8-12

Difficulty: 6

 

Mario goes to sleep and soon finds himself in the strange land of Subcon, where strange creatures and abound, yet Bowser and his koopa troops are oddly absent. Mario meets up with his brother Luigi, his friend Toad, and the Princess and sets out to explore this strange land.

Why you should play it

Super Mario Bros. 2 is a NES go-to game that anyone who owns an NES should have. Designed by Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario 2 is a game I scarcely need to describe due to its explosive popularity even today. As one of the four playable characters, each with different attributes, you explore many worlds filled with brand new creatures never seen in the original Super Mario Bros. The Koji Kondo score is every bit as memorable as the classic Super Mario Bros. overture theme,  and the attack concept of picking vegetables or enemies and chucking them at other enemies is just really cool. The game has been remade many times, but no matter how you slice it, the original NES version is well worth an occasional playthrough.

Fun fact

Okay, everyone and their mother knows the history of Super Mario Bros. 2 by this point, but I feel I would be remiss to not include at least an abridged version. If you know all this like the back of your hand feel free to scroll down and read the rest of the entries.

Super Mario Bros. 2 for the NES is not the same game Japan knows as Super Mario Bros. 2. In Japan, Super Mario Bros. 2 was released for the ill-fated Famicom Disk System in 1986. The sequel to one of the most popular games of all was essentially the same game retooled with a new ground tile, a wind effect and made significantly more difficult, almost absurdly so. It shares much in common with most typical NES rom hacks you’ll find.

The following year, Japanese television giant Fuji TV ran a campaign to promote its programming called Yume Kōjō ’87. In a partnership deal with Nintendo, a platformer game was devloped entitled Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panikku or Dream Factory: Heart-pounding Panic in English, or more commonly just Doki Doki Panic. The game featured an exotic Arabian family who were the mascots of the Yume Kōjō ’87 promotion.

When the NES was starting to pick up steam in North America and Super Mario Bros. was a hot seller, Nintendo of America’s Howard Phillips was a strong opponent to localizing Super Mario Bros. 2 as he rightfully felt it was too difficult for American children and didn’t bring enough new to the table as it was just a glorified “hack” of the original masterpiece.

Instead, Phillips suggested Doki Doki Panic be translated and westernized. The sprites for many of the characters were changed to feature Mario characters, a new boss was added and all reference to the Yume Kōjō ’87 event was removed. When the game arrived in America under the title Super Mario Bros. 2, nearly everyone was none the wiser. As Mario 2 had been made for American audiences, the later Japanese Famicom release was called Super Mario Bros. USA.

Several years later in 1993, Nintendo released enhanced remakes of both versions of Super Mario Bros. 2 in the Super Mario All-Stars collection, changing the title of the Japanese version of the game to Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels.  Even today, that’s still what most people refer the original Super Mario Bros. 2 as.

The original Super “Marry-o” Bros. 2 commercial. Damn southerners who can’t pronounce names properly.

#46&Konami Wai Wai World  and Wai Wai World 2: S.O.S From parsley Castle

1987/1992

Konami

Platformer

Price range: 15-30

Difficulty: 5

Region: Japan only

 

Wai Wai World is in trouble! The Konami Heroes have all been kidnapped! To rescue them, the brilliant Dr. Cinnamon builds two androids – Konami Man and Konami Lady. It’s up to them to rescue Getsu Fūma, Goemon, Simon Belmont, Mikey Walsh, Moai head, and King Kong!

In Wai Wai World 2, The evil Waruumon has kidnapped Princess Herb! Luckily, Dr. Cinnamon has created a hero that can stop him. Rickie! Can he save the princess, by traveling through all of Wai Wai world?

Why you should play them

The Wai Wai World games are basically tributes to other Konami games released for the Famicom hardware. Both are excellent platformers that feature many characters from other popular Konami games. Both games use their own game engine where the playable characters control the same.

Ever wanted to play a game where Simon Belmont has less ridged jumping or Goemon can reach targets despite being short? Wai Wai World is for you.  You’ll explore six unique Konami worlds filled with Metroid style non-linear platforming.

The second game is even better than the first. Replacing Konami Man and Konami Girl is the new character of Rickie, who can double jump and fire a short range blaster in three directions just like Samus from Metroid. This time around the stages are oddly auto scrolling to keep the pacing in check, and there are even more playable cameo characters like Bill from Contra and Upa from Bio Marcile Upa. Music is a big component of both games. Each character has a main overture theme that plays hen you play as that character.

In the end, both games come highly recommended for different reasons and as they are so similar, I’ve grouped them together in one slot. Perhaps that’s cheating, but who cares? It’s my list.

Fun fact

Konami Wai Wai World 1 references Castlevania, Getsu Fuma Den, The Goonies, Gradius, King Kong 2, Ganbare Goemon and Twinbee.

Konami Wai Wai World 2 references Castlevania III, Contra, Bio Marcile Upa, Getsu Fuma Den, Ganbare Goemon 2, Gradius and Twinbee.

These games were the first appearances of Konami Man and Konami Girl. You can find English translations of both games on Romhacking.net. Borrowing ideas from many Konami properties, the Wai Wai World games  likely stirred the flames behind the success of Parodius and other cross-over games.

Hyadain’s Wai Wai World cover (subtitled)

#45TMNT III The Manhattan Project

1992

Konami

Beat ’em Up

Price range: $10-15

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

 

The evil Shredder’s kidnapped April O’Neil yet again – evidently simply because he can – and turned the city of Manhattan into a floating island, again evidently simply for shits and giggles. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spring into action for another round of Foot Clan whooping and Shredder shreddin’.

The third and least well known of the TMNT NES games, The Manhattan Project was developed from the ground up to be an NES exclusive, rather than the arcade backport of the second game. Although it shares many similarities to the NES version of the TMNT Arcade gameManhattan Project is arguably improved across the board making it a better game overall.

Why you should play it

Constantly overshadowed by its SNES follow up released the same year, TMNT3 is one of the best brawlers on the NES, bar none. Unlike the second game which was based upon the TMNT Arcade game and the fourth which became the second TMNT Arcade Game, TMNT3 is NES and Famicom exclusive. A perfect example of Konami’s talents, The Manhattan Project maximized what could possibly be done on the NES and even did some things you’d faintly believe possible on such primitive hardware. It can be played 2 player co-op as well, so grab a friend and kick some ninja robot ass.

Fun fact

TMNT3 was released only a few short months before the acclaimed Turtles in Time. Released in Japan as TMNT 2 because the first game’s title was not written in Katakana. The Japanese version also offers an options menu not present in the North American version.

#44

Blaster Master

1988

Sunsoft

Platformer Run & Gun

Price range: $6-8

  When Jason Frudnick’s pet frog Fred runs away and is exposed to a radioactive barrel in Jason’s front yard, he grows to an enormous size and jumps down a giant hole. Not being particularly smart, Jason follows Fred down the hole hoping to find him. Instead Jason finds himself in a mysterious land fill of many dangers. Luckily for him, he soon discovers a powersuit and blaster, as well as the fully functional battletank, SOFIA the 3rd. He uses this tank to find new weapons and parts to the SOFIA tank that will allow him to explore this land in search for Fred, his freedom loving mutant frog. Will Jason find Fred?!

Why you should play it

Another Sunsoft classic that fires on all cylinders, to play Blaster Master is to love Blaster Master. Although the plot is ridiculous and silly, it’s completely irreverent to how much of a gem Blaster Master truly is. You’ll explore areas in your jumping tank and even get out on foot to enter caverns in overhead shooter segments all the while jamming to some of the best chiptunes you’ll ever hear. Blaster Master yet again proves Sunsoft were the kings of NES music, even to a greater degree than Capcom or Konami.

The level of detail in the sprites is unmatched, and there’s an amazing sense of progression as you get deeper into the game. The longer you play Blaster Master the more you’ll come to love it. This is absolutely a must-have for any collection.

Fun fact

The Japanese version has a completely different story and the cutscenes with the frog was completely added in later for the North American release. The game features a Famous grenade exploit. When you hit a boss with a grenade, immediately press start as the grenade connects. While your holding start the grenade acts like a multiple grenade bomb. This continuosly hits your opponent until its dead. This exploit was prodoinently featured in early Nintendo Power magainze ads as a free example of the tips you could learn from reading NP.

There have been a few Blaster Master sequels over the years for systems such as the Sega Genesis and Sony Playstation. None are nearly as good as the original though. The game was also ported to the GBC, though its nearly impossible to play thanks to the reduced screen resolution.

Blaster Master Retro Remix by DJ Axis

#43

Crystalis

1991

SNK

Action RPG

Price range: $10-15

Difficulty: 7

Region: All

 

1997, October 1, The END DAY. The third World War which encircled the globe ends in a devastating thermal-nuclear apocalypse and brings about an end to human civilization. The surviving humans concluded that they could never repeat their mistakes and build a great flying tower in the sky to watch over the world, fitted with extraordinary weaponry that could be used against anyone who attempted war again.

One hundred years later, the remains of humanity have reverted back to a medieval state. Technology is all but forgotten, horrible mutants roam the countryside, and swords and a newly discovered force called “magic” rule the day. Near the isolated village of Leaf, a hidden cryogenic chamber springs to life and outs steps a purple haired self-named hero from before the war.

The hero learns the evil Emperor Draygon has amassed a giant army and plans to conquer what’s left of humanity ironically using the last remnant of technology built to protect them, the giant floating weapon known as the tower that was built to oppress evil. As the hero of prophecy, it’s up to purple haired guy to assemble the legendary sword called Crystalis, defeat Draygon, and destroy the tower before it can complete its intended purpose: the total destruction of all life.

Why you should play it

Crystalis is similar in many ways to The Legend of Zelda, but also borrows many ideas for it’s more RPG oriented sequel, Zelda II. You’ll explore the land in a top-down perspective solving puzzles and defeating enemies with your various elemental swords, which can be powered up to fire energy blasts just like in Zelda.

The swordplay is fun of course, but the real star of the show here are the graphics and the music. Crystalis has one of the most energetic overworld theme that betrays the post-apoplectic setting, but is still such a damn fine track.

Here’s a fantastic remix for your listening pleasure.[youtube-http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CSWolwZ_LdA]

A lengthy RPG, Crystalis uses a battery save, so don’t be worried about long winded passwords to write down for this one. Crystalis is really a treat of classic gaming. If you missed out on this one the first time around, track it down today. Crystalis is a very enjoyable example of the early action RPGs that are so common today. Fun fact

In 2000, SNK was in real shambles after the commercial failure of the Neo-Geo Pocket Color and their dwindling returns of Neo-Geo MVS and AES sales. Nintendo approached them with the idea of a Crystalis remake, which they agreed to, but SNK did not have the ability at the time to develop for the GBC themselves. Instead, the GBC port was created by Nintendo’s then newly set up American development studio, Nintendo Software Technology.

The GBC version of Crystalis differs from the original in many ways. Several new dungeons have been added, and the final Tower dungeon has been completely altered. The final battle against Dragonia has also been changed to more closely meet the original designs SNK had intended, but had to cut it due to the many limitations of the Famicom. Gameplay wise, the GBC build improved the original with enemies that are no longer immune to certain elemental swords, but the game as a whole suffered from the reduced visibility thanks to the low screen resolution of the GBC. The visibility issue hurts Crystalis to the point the NES original is still superior despite it’s issues.

The original Crystalis was one of the last SNK developed NES games. It’s also known as the much cooler God Slayer title in Japan.

The nearly completely irrelevant to the game itself North American commercial.

#42

Bubble Bobble

1987

Taito

Fixed screen arcade action

Price range: $8-15

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

Bubble Bobble is the story of two humans, Bub and Bob who wander into the mysterious cave of monsters to rescue their girlfriends. When they enter, they are magically turn into bubble dinosaurs. The only way to transform back is to reach the end of the cave, which is where their girlfriends are also being held…

Why you should play it

Ah Bubble Bobble. Perhaps the best single screen game on the NES ever, and without a doubt one of the best Taito games ever made. As Bub or Bob, the basic idea is to to spit bubbles with encapsulate your foes and then pop your bubbles using the spikes on your head or your back. Don’t be fooled by it’s super cute exterior – Bubble Bobble is harder than it looks, but is easy enough to pick up and play, making it the ultimate unisex arcade classic.

The two player option is the perfect way to get a non gaming girlfriend or wife into classic gaming. The controls are easy to learn, the concept is simple and the gameplay is fun and rewarding. Bubble Bobble is one of the best arcade translations to the NES. The fun, fast paced music that plays throughout Bubble Bubble walks the fine line of never becoming annoying despite the endless looping. Very few games manage to achieve this with Bubble Bobble’s level of success.  Each of the 100 levels in the game offer a unique challenge and the game is crazy, endless fun….at least until you reach the dreaded level 57. Luckily, the game does offer a simple password save that allows you to skip that one if you need to! There are also some power ups and weapons throughout the game to make it even more fun.

So if you don’t already own the truly excellent Bubble Bobble, go snag a copy on ebay. You’ll thank me later.

Fun fact

The NES version of Bubble Bobble is actually a conversion of the Famicom Disk System release, and as such, Bubble Bobble was never actually released on the Famicom. Pirated copies are the only way to get it on the Famicom outside of the few who make Famicom reproductions.

Although the NES version was released in decent quantities, the demand for the NES classic has actually increased over time, making Bubble Bobble semi-rare. Only a few years ago, I seen sell for on average $4, but now you’ll be lucky to find it for less than $8, or even less than $15 in some cases. To all those who are looking, I wish you the best of luck!

Bubble Bobble would have several “semi-sequels” in Rainbow Islands, Parasol Stars and Bubble Bobble 2, all of which are pretty rare.

In the 90s, the characters of Bub and Bob would become unofficial mascots for Taito, and would also later go on to star in the mega-hit series Puzzle Bobble, also known as Bust-A-Move.

#41

Vice Project Doom

1991

American Sammy

Platformer

Price range: $4-8

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

 

Everybody’s craving it, and the hunt is on. “Gel” is the latest drug to hit the streets. It’s neon green, lethal, and dropping its users like flies. On the case is Vice officer Quinn Hart, a no-nonsense sledgehammer for the law. Packing a vicious .44, crushing grenades, and a lightning fast laser whip, Hart is notoriously known for always getting his target – dead or alive. Now Hart has his eyes set on taking down the boss of the “Gel” cartel, but when he took on the case, Hart had no idea what would be in store for him…

Why you should play itReleased in late 1991, the cyberpunk multi-genre Vice: Project Doom was a bit too late to have the kind of impact it would have had only a year earlier, and instead of being a blockbuster smash, it quickly faded into obscurity. A real tragedy, as Vice Project Doom is fantastic. The game has four main elements – Ninja Gaiden inspired, highly detailed cutscenes and three completely different play styles – overhead driving like Spy Hunter, traditional platforming and first person shooting like the amazing Mechanized Attack. The driving and shooting stages are certainly adequate, but the real star of Vice is the excellent platforming stages.

Borrowing from other successful platformers, most notably Ninja Gaiden, the game mechanics in Vice aren’t in any way original, but they are executed flawlessly. Hart can jump, duck,walk while ducking, climb or use his selected weapon. Weapons that can be selected include a close range melee energy whip (how cool is that?!), a mid range pistol (…makes perfect sense) and a long range grenade. Just keep in mind Hart tosses the grenade in an arc, so it’s often useful to jump before trying to land your potato on target. Weapons can be chosen on the fly with the Select button, making Vice one of the only NES games to make regular use of the Select button.

The bottom line is that Vice Project Doom is a very enjoyable romp that borrows heavily from other great games. From the outstanding cinematic dialog between the levels similar to Ninja Gaiden to the varied gameplay styles all with great graphics and sound, Vice Project Doom is truly a forgotten classic.

Fun factIn Japan, Vice Project Doom was known as Gun-Dec, and the cover art sported a guy who looks like a cross between Mel Gibson and Sylvester Stallone. THose crazy Japanese!

In the indie videogame film Game Boys (that’s totally worth watching), the main character describes Vice Project Doom as “the only Ninja Gaiden clone that’s actually better than Ninja Gaiden.” I would tend to agree.

#40

Megaman 6 The Greatest Battle Ever!!

1993

Capcom

Platformer

Price range: $25-40

Difficulty: 5

Region: All

In the year 2013, the 1st Annual Robot Battle Tournament sponsored by the mysterious billionaire Mr. X is held. This tournament, designed to showcase the talents of robot designers from across the globe, has robots battling each other one on one until a champion is discovered to claim the title of “The Most Powerful Robot In The World.” Despite his brilliance, Dr. Light decides not to participate due to his pacifist nature. however, he and Megaman  attend the event as honored guest spectators.

Nothing seems strange as the contest begins, but when the final top eight robots enter the arena for the final event, the lights dim and Mr. X swoops in, stealing the robots and reprograms them to destroy, launching them across the globe.

Mr. X informs Megaman that it has always secretly been him who has been financing Dr. Wily’s attempts at world domination, and it was only due to Wily’s incompetence that Megaman was able to defeat him so many times. But now that Mr X has the eight strongest robots in the world, he no longer needs Dr. Wily’s help and will conquer the world himself.

Megaman sets off to stop Mr. X and his band of robots. Will Megaman be strong enough to defeat the most powerful robots in history? This surely will be his greatest battle ever!

Why you should play it

Megaman 6 was amongst the final games released for the NES in North America and is probably the most overlooked game in the classic Megaman series. The Rush Jet and Power adapters make it unique, although all of the previous conventions were once again present. The weapons are for the most part a little weak, but the Rush adapters more than made up for them. The music is classic Megaman condensed awesome, the visuals push the hardware to the limits and like the other Megaman NES games, MM6 has very high replay value. If you skipped this one assuming it’s just a cookie cutter cash-in, give it a shot. Capcom really put in a lot of polish in Megaman 6 that goes unnoticed to an almost criminal degree. Megaman 6 is what I consider to be the NES’s swan song, although great titles like Adventure Island 4 would still be released after it.

Fun fact

The plot of Megaman 6, just like the very concept of Megaman itself, is heavily based on Osamu Tezuka’s Astroboy. In every version of the godfather of anime’s classic tale, Astroboy would be forced into fighting the world’s most powerful robots once a tournament for them went arie.

Unlike the previous five Megaman games, Capcom did not publish the game in North America citing their focus had moved on to the Super NES. Luckily for US NES gamers, Nintendo picked up the rights and released it themselves. As such, Capcom’s logo is nowhere to be found on the box of the American version of the game. The developer is only mentioned in the copyrights and trademarks in the bottom right hand corner of the box.

During the development, Nintendo Power magazine ran a promotion for kids to submit their ideas for robots. Due to the contest, Megaman 6 was the first and only Megaman classic game to feature robot masters designed by children outside of Japan – Windman and Knightman were designed by an American and a Canadian respectively. From Megaman 2 all the way to Megaman 8, the robot master design contests would be only held in Japan.

 

#39Moon Crystal

1992

Hector Co Ltd

Platformer

Price range: $20-35

Difficulty: 8

Region: Japan only

Moon Crystal is the story of Ricky Slater on his mission to free his father who was kidnapped by the evil Count Crimson. The Count is forcing his father, a great scientist, to use the power of the mysterious Moon Crystal to turn the dead into living and rule the world.

Why you should play it

Released only in Japan in 1992, Moon Crystal is a richly detailed, beautiful game filled with incredibly fluidly animated sprites and colorful anime-style cutscenes. Inspired it seems by Prince of Persia, Moon Crystal manages to improve on its predecessor with more responsive controls, but even so you shouldn’t expect Ricky to instantly react in the same way Mario or Megaman would. The sometimes stiff jumping can result in a few deaths, particularly when moving platforms are involved.

Although some aspects of Moon Crystal can be incredibly frustrating, the overall experience is one that’s well worth playing. The storyline is well delivered through exquisitely beautiful cutscenes that showcase that the Famicom still had plenty of life left even as late as 1992.  The game is a little on the short side, but the replay value is quite high due to how beautiful the game is.

Fun fact

There’s a complete fan translation of Moon Crystal available. You can find it here.

#38Sweet Home

1989

Capcom

RPG

Price range: $30-60

Difficulty: 9

Region: Japan only

 

Sweet Home follows the adventure of five brave documentary film makers Akiko, Emi, Asuka, Kazuo and Taro. They are in search of a famous fresco created by the late famous painter, Mamiya Ichirou. What seems like a weak boring plot at first soon turns into a truly horrifying, blood curdling, spine tingling…just plain scary plot, brought forth to the player through notes and diary entries left behind by mansion residents and others seeking the paintings.

Why you should play it

The great granddaddy of today’s Survival Horror genre,  Sweet Home is easily one of the best RPGs for the Famicom. Actually a game tie-in released concurrently with a low-budget horror film of the same name, Sweet Home is one of those rare examples where the game has aged better than the movie.

Sweet Home is a very unique game years ahead of its time. It follows many typical RPG standards such as random enemies and level gains, but has many of its own elements such as each party member possessing only a single item required for progress, and having to manage at least two parties at once.

Trapped in the vast Mamiya Mansion, there are no shops and no inns.  Fighting enemies yields experience, but never dropped items. All healing items are finite, making careful item rationing vital for survival. The lengthy game’s multiple endings depend on who survives and who falls victim to the cursed mansion, Sweet Home is as much as strategy game as it a horror themed RPG.

Visually a true masterpiece of 8-bit design,the masterful use of music creates an eerie mood unmatched by any other chiptune composition. If you’re looking for a game to play this Halloween,  Sweet Home is a must-play. Highly recommend.

Fun fact

Based on a movie released at the same time as the game. There are some minor differences between the film and the game, but both tell the same story.

The first Resident Evil was originally intended to be  a remake of Sweet Home, but was changed to the version we know today through a series of minor adjustments such as adding in zombies instead of ghosts. Gradually, more changes were made to the setting, the gameplay focus, and story until Resident Evil was born a distinct game from its Sweet Home origins. Even still, the completed Resident Evil bares a distinct resemblance to Sweet Home. In fact, some elements were left completely unchanged.

For instance, in Sweet Home when entering new areas, there’s a short animation that shows the door opening and closing. The Resident Evil games use the same mechanic as a tip of the hat to Sweet Home as well as serving the practical purpose of hiding the load time between areas.

There’s a complete fan translation of Sweet Home available that’s so professionally well done, you’d never be able to tell it wasn’t Capcom who made it. You can find it here. Check out the duel commercial for the film and the Famicom game together. This video isn’t subtitled, but the announcer isn’t saying anything particularly important that I haven’t already covered, so don’t worry if you can’t understand Japanese.

#37Lei Dian Huang Bi Ka Qiu Chuan Shuo

2005

Shenzhen Nanjing

RPG

Price range: $30-60

Difficulty: 5

Region: China only

Journey back to the region of Kanto, inhabited by mysterious creatures called Pokémon. On his tenth birthday, a boy from the town of Pallet is now old enough to receive his first Pokémon, and embarks on a journey to catch as many Pokémon as he can while building a team to defeat other trainers. Does he have what it takes to collect the region’s eight gym badges and face the Elite Four and Pokémon League Champion?

Why you should play it

You read right – this is a pirate port of Pokémon Yellow to the lowly Famicom. Shockingly (pun may or may not be intended) it is also really rather good – I’m being completely honest here. Anyone who grew up playing the Pokémon games will tell you that beneath the child-friendly exterior lies a a highly customizable and complex RPG structure and that’s completely true of this pirate as well.

Nearly everything was lifted from Yellow – the plot, the Pokémon locations, the attacks learned at the proper levels, even the Pokémon used by the various trainers along various routes. As great as all this sounds, it gets even better.

The battle system used by this pirate is nearly identical to the Generation 2 battle system from Gold and Silver, as are the Pokémon battle sprites. This means the battle system is even more well balanced than the one from the real Yellow version, and looks superior as well.

Outside of battle, the overworld graphics are largely lifted directly from the 32-bit GBA remakes of Red and Green, FireRed and LeafGreen. The result is an incredibly good looking game on the Famicom, especially for a pirate.

The game may be in Manrain Chinese, but with any prior experience with any of the English Pokémon games you’ll be able to jump right into this one as it is so similar to the original version of Yellow that player’s guides written for the original will apply to this pirate as well!

Of course, like most pirates, the music is bloody awful. Using 8-bit arrangements of music from Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire, the music IS at least Pokémon related, but its the high pitched tinny crap that you’d expect from pirates. Still, this is a minor gripe against what is otherwise one of the best pirates ever produced for the Famicom. The mere fact that it isn’t a buggy mess is astounding.

Fun fact

This game’s code uses a full Megabyte. In contrast, the vast majority of NES/Famicom games use 128KB or less. The massive size available affords Lei Dian Huang Bi Ka Qiu Chuan Shuo with the complexity that would be otherwise lost.

There is now a partial English patch that translates the menu, allowing English users to play through the game slightly easier. The bulk of the game is still in Chinese, but at least this gets the menu you’ll be seeing constantly translated. More importantly though, it replaces the awful Ruby/Saphire remixes with tunes from the original Red/Green. The sound is still using the game’s sound engine, but these new tracks are far more bearable. Too bad it can’t be made into a reproduction cart…

#36Joy Mech Fight

1992

Nintendo R&D1

Fighting

Price range: $15-25

Difficulty: 6

Region: Japan only

 

The evil scientist Warunachi has hacked all the otherwise peaceful robots in Japan and now plans to launch an attack for world domination the likes of which the world has never seen. Fortunately his former partner, Dr. Eamon, saved one robot from the takeover and has now programmed him to defeat the other robots and foil Dr. Warunachi’s evil plans.

Why you should play it

Joy Mech Fight is a 2D fighting game that’s bursting with options, even going as far as including a training mode. Despite its story being a blatant rip-off of the Megaman 1 plot, the game is otherwise completely original and quite fantastic. The game’s story mode has you playing as Sukapon, a pink, happy-go-lucky robot who can dish out some pretty mean punishment. When Sukapon defeats each foe, you then unlock them for use during the game. There are technically only eight fighting robots to choose from in all, but in the story mode, there’s actually a good deal of replay in multiple difficulties to unlock additional robots. In all, there are thirty six possible robots to choose from – way more than any other fighting game of its era. Best of all, the game uses battery save to avoid lengthy passwords.

As you would hope for, there’s also a 2 player vs mode that is a ton of fun. Despite the limited Famicom controller, Joy Mech Fight offers a huge verity of moves for each of the characters from standard punches and kicks to throws, and timed special moves. Moves are easy to learn, making Joy Mech Fight a great game for causal fighting fans as much as the real hardcore. The different playable characters are very well balanced and offer a good amount of diversity amongst them. There are the big slow robots with powerful moves, and quick, small robots with weak moves. Favorite characters will depend on the player’s own preference.

So how does Joy Mech Fight compare to other fighters, especially considering its on the lowly Famicom? Surprisingly very well, in fact. The secret to get a fighting game on this level to work on the Famicom is employed in the characters themselves. The characters are all completely made up of circular, floating parts, similar to Ubisoft’s Rayman or the Sega classic Vectorman. This means that each of the playable robots are made of several individual sprites, allowing for much smoother animation and next to no slowdown or sprite flickering, problems that would otherwise blight an experience like this.

Fun fact

Pop quiz! How many fighting games are there for the Famicom/NES? Guessed a few? Not counting terrible pirates and mini-game modes like in Double Dragon, there’s only three. Although they may seem simple, fighting games are extraordinarily difficult to pull off on 8-bit hardware – the lack of processing power coupled with sprite limitations, flickering and slowdown make them impractical for limited 8-bit hardware. There are a handful of notable exceptions, such as Street Fighter II on GameBoy.  As the only non-pirate Fighting game for the Famicom, Joy Mech Fight is as much a technical achievement as it is a recommended game.

#35Little Nemo: The Dream Master

1989

Capcom

Platformer

Price range: $6-8

Difficulty: 5

Region: All

1905, New York. Late one night, a young boy named Nemo is visited by a strange girl who offers to take him on a journey to visit Princess Camille of a fantasy world named Slumberland. Hesitant at the idea of playing with a girl, Nemo is offered candy if he’ll agree to go, and so be boards the fantastic Zeppelin and is carried away to the land of dreams.

Why you should play it

Little Nemo is an unsung classic as far as excellent Capcom cartoon tie-ins go. Brimming with charm and dare I even say heart, this platformer is wholly unique. On his own, Nemo is very weak and cannot attack enemies. His own means of defending himself is to hurl candy, what at most stuns foes, but luckily the many animal inhabitants of his slumberland enjoy eating the candy and will offer him a life if he feeds them. Once fed, the animals can be controlled by Nemo, affording him powers unlike any he could have in the waking world.

For instance, hopping onto a frog allows Nemo to swiftly swim and jump higher. The gorilla can climb vertical surfaces and punch foes. The bee allows Nemo to temporarily fly wherever he wishes, and so on. The excellent level structure of each stage is designed to make maximum use of the various animal powers and will have you switching between them constantly on your search for keys to the exists of each level.

With excellent controls and the kind of cartoon graphics only a Capcom NES game could pull off, Little Nemo would already be something special, but I’d be remiss to not mention the spectacular music. Composed by Junko Tamiya, whose previous works include the NES version of Bionic Commando and the aforementioned Sweet Home, Little Nemo’s score manages to completely capture a feeling of childhood innocence and wonder. Every single track is fantastic and very memorable. Below I will include the beautiful retro remix by DJ Axis, composed for the short-lived Retro Remix show on screwattack in 2007.

Fun fact

You want a game with some major history? Little Nemo’s for you.

The concept of Little Nemo was devised by cartoonist Winsor Mccay in 1905, or even possibly earlier. Mccay produced a Little Nemo animated short film in 1910 – over a century ago now. Remarkably it is incredibly well preserved and can be seen on youtube. Here it is for your viewing pleasure.

Little Nemo would continue to find an ageless popularity as it was constantly revived in the 30’s, 40’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. The NES Little Nemo game was actually a tie-in with the Little Nemo film produced alongside it made in 1990, but the film didn’t arrive until 1992, a full two years after the NES version was released, leaving those unfamiliar to Nemo to think it was simply a one-shot concept on it’s own by Capcom.

Also released in 1990 was a Little Nemo arcade game simply called Nemo. I couldn’t make that up even if I tried.

Must Watch DJ Axis Little Nemo Retro Remix

Original American Commercial that of course, has very little to do with the actual game

The Adventures of Duane and BrandO Little Nemo tribute

#34Akumajou Special: Boku Dracula Kun!

1992

Konami

Platformer

Price range: $15-20

Difficulty: 6

Region: Japan only

Upon awaking from a long sleep, the youthful, self-proclaimed Demon prince Alucard discovers the great dinosaur Galamoth has challenged his position as the next heir to darkness. Never one to back down from a challenge, Alucard suits up and ventures off from Castlevania to challenge Galamoth in his tower in the sky. Alucard may be young, but he’s determined to show he’s worthy of the title “kid Dracula”.

Why you should play it

Ah, Akumajou Special. Masters at making fun of themselves, Konami once again proves their parodies are every bit as good as their originals with this excellent spin on the Casltevania series. The game plays more like Megaman than Castlevania, giving the game a greater degree of flexibility in attacks. As he advances through the story, Alucard will gain the ability charge his shot, fire homing fire shots or turn in a bat. Playing up the Super Deformed style for all its worth, defeated enemies drop coins that can be used in absurd mini games, such as guessing which color panties the showgirls are wearing, or participating in a quiz gameshow.

As you’d expect, the graphics are great and the music is whimsical and upbeat. This may be Castlevania, but there’s no Belmont in this castle. The game is completely in Japanese, but the language barrier for this game is thin and the little Japanese that is present can be simply guessed at or ignored. If you love Castlevania or just good fun action games, Akumajou Special: Boku Dracula Kun! comes highly recommended.

Fun fact

Since the game wasn’t released in the US, one has to consider possible reasons, and the game’s crude humor towards the United States (the Statue of Liberty is one of the contestants of the gameshow!) and adult themes such as the showgirls probably didn’t make it an attractive game for localization at the time.

Although the Famicom version never made its way to North America, the GameBoy port did. The game was released in the west under the title of simply Kid Dracula and the game never made any mention of the Castlevania connection. I’m not sure that gamers back in the day would have known the connection at all. The GameBoy version is more or less a port of the Famicom original, but suffers from slowdown, visible screen area, and of course, color.

Although there’s only a small amount of Japanese present, there’s a complete English translation of Akumajou Special that retranslates the title to “I’m Kid Dracula“. You can find it here.

#33Shatterhand

1992

Natsume

Platformer

Price range: $15-20

Difficulty: 9

Region: All

In the year 2030, a group of military renegades known as Metal Command are selling to conquer the world by building an army of cyborg soldiers. After alosing both arms in a near fatal skirmish with Metal Command, a young police offier named Steve Hermann is fitted with two specially developed cybernetic arms to allow him to carry out a normal life. However, the cybernetic arms have had the unintended effect of giving Hermann superhuman arm strength. With this new power, Hermann is now tasked with a mission to defeat Metal Command, and is given the new codename – Shatterhand.

Why you should play it

No, these screenshots aren’t faked – Shatterhand really does look this good – almost 16-bit, really. One only needs to play Shatterhand for a few minutes to realize the similarities between it and Shadow of the Ninja. Both were produced by Natsume towards the ladder half of the NES’s life.  Both games are extremely detailed and beautiful. Both have amazing sound, and both are hard as hell.

In Shatterhand’s case, the game does throw the player a bone every now and then by offering collectable combinations of alpha and beta letters that appear throughout the stages. When any combination of three are collected, Shatterhand gains a hovering satellite robot to aid in attack and defense. There are also health lockers scattered about.

I don’t want to dwell on the fact, but make no mistake about it: Shatterhand is one of the most difficult NES games out there. Having only a close range melee attack, you’ll have to constantly be placing yourself in danger and after each punch, you’ll be left open for counterattack for any surviving enemies on screen. Add in the devious platforming and you’ve got a game that makes even the later stages of Shadow of the Ninja seem like a walk in the park.

Despite the extreme difficulty, Shatterhand is a game worth a look. For a game like this, I see no shame in using GameGenie. Games like Shatterhand practically require it.

Fun fact

The Japanese versionof Shatterhand is based of a tv tokusatsu series called Tokkyuu Shireri Solbrain, and thus the plot of the Famicom version is directly related to that show. Solbrain is the story of a special police rescue squad lead by Daiki Nishio, a young detective who has a special watch that allows him to “Plus Up” into a special power suit called the SolBraver.

Outside of the cosmetic difference, the Famicom version also features a carnavil stage in place of the Submarine stage of Shatterhand. If you’d like to play the Japanese version in English, there’s a fan translation for that too. Find it here.[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sqxb0Ru5vsc]

#32Guerrilla War

1988

SNK

Shooter

Price range: $8-12

Difficulty: 7

Region: All

A tropical island (*coughcough*Cuba) is being oppressed by a dictator (*caughcoughBatista), but fortunately a brave solider (caughtcoughCheGuevara) is on hand to restore justice. March through the rivers, swamps and forests to overthrow the dictator in this evolution of the Commando style shooter.

Why you should play it

Guerrilla War is similar to another game that made my list, Data East’s Heavy Barrel, but this is a much more refined game. Amongst all of SNK’s NES contributions, Guerrilla War is unquestionably the best. Everything from the visuals to the controls are perfectly executed to really push the NES as the graphics powerhouse it really wasn’t intended to be. The resulting NES game is one that looks and plays much better than other ports of the same game!

There’s a lot of replay value in this difficult trek through enemy lines, so even though the game is absurdly difficult, it’s one you’ll want to return to again and again. The two player option is absolutely amazing and the game manages to have a ton going on at once without any hint of slowdown, even with two players. If you’ve never tried Guerrilla War, pick yourself up a copy, grab a friend and prepare for one of the best co-op experiences you can find on the NES.

Fun fact

The original arcade game SNK developed was blantantly based on the exploits of the Cuban guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara in his battles for freedom against the Batista regime during the Cuban Revolution in the late 1950s. In fact, the Japanese title of the Famicom version was ゲバラ (Guevara). As if that weren’t crazy enough, if a second player joins in, they assume the role of the infamous Fidel Castro!

However, even as late as 1988 the Cold War had not completely ended, and SNK feared extreme anti-Communist sentiments in a western release, so the game was Americanized in such a way as to remove all direct references to Guevara or Cuba in general. Despite this being the only difference, the Famicom version is highly sought after by collectors as a Cold War gaming relic, just like the two Golgo 13 games.

#31Gun-Nac

1990

Compile

Platformer

Price range: $20-30

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

In the distant future, the Earth’s resources have been depleted, and many of earth’s inhabitants are moving to the new, artificial solar system called IOTA Synthetica. The IOTA Synthetica, like all the solar systems created by the “Galactic Federation”, is very hip and up-scale.

This image ended abruptly though, as a mysterious wave of cosmic radiation swept through the solar system. This radiation caused ordinary inanimate objects to spring to life, and attack the solar systems residents.

The Galactic Federation, realizing the situation was beyond their control, calls on Commander Gun-Nac, Son of the Legendary Xan, to save IOTA Synthetica from destruction from this strange cosmic energy.

Why you should play it

Gun-Nac is a top down shooter that doesn’t take itself seriously in the least. Similar to Konmai’s Parodius, you’ll be battling incredibly silly enemies including giant space rabbits that attack with carrot projectiles and floating cans of gasoline. One of the best shooters on the system, Gun-Nac features very fast action, responsive controls and a varied and well designed power up system.

The options available to the player are unmatched. There are five different kinds of shots as well as four types of bombs. Each are very different from the other, and include the regular Vulcan spread shot, lasers,  homing shots to flames that shoot out directly forward and are intensely powerful in short bursts. As you defeat enemies they will sometimes drop collectible money bags that you can spend on different weapons and bombs in the inter-level weapons market led by the happiest blue haired weapons dealer ever.

Unlike nearly every other shoot-em-up on the NES, Gun-Nac’s learning curve is forgiving, and you have the freedom to control the speed of your ship and upgrade it frequently with many power ups including a wing attachment that augments the power of your shot threefold. Gun-Nac is one hell of a good shooter.

Fun fact

In the options menu, you can even configure if you want the NES to give priority to additional speed at the expense of sprite flickering, or to sprites at the expense of insane speed. Gun-Nac is the only NES game to offer this choice.

#30

Gargoyle’s Quest II: The Demon Darkness

1992

Capcom

Platformer

Price range: $15-25

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

One day, Firebrand, a young gargoyle demon of the Red Arrremer Tribe, decides to undergo training to improve his skills. Traveling to a small alternate dimension just outside of his village of Eturia, catastrophe strikes when Firebrand is away. His home village has been destroyed and his king has been fatally wounded. The sudden attack was perpetrated by the mysterious Black Light forces, who now threaten to destroy the entire Ghoul realm. It’s up to aspiring warrior Firebrand to save the underworld as he knows it.

Why you should play it

Gargoyle’s Quest is a unusual platformer that borrows some RPG elements, such as an overworld map and HP. The basic idea that Firebrand can breathe fire, jump, and hover from platform to platform, but he can’t fly. His ability to hover set the game apart from anything else on the GameBoy, as platforming, item collecting, and even boss battles were structured around the hover mechanic.
Gargoyle’s Quest II is the sequel to the terribly underrated GameBoy original. The Famicom version follows the same formula as the first game, but allows for much richer graphics and color, less slowdown and the obvious benefit of a larger viewing area. It was very common in the original to make “leaps of faith” only to find yourself in a pit of spikes.
Outside of the GameBoy connection, there’s really nothing else you can play on the NES that’s like Gargoyle’s Quest II. The platforming mixed with the RPG elements takes some getting used to at first, but once you adjust to the pure strangeness of the concept, you’ll see that each style accents the other and makes the game stronger as a whole. Gargoyle’s Quest II isn’t anywhere near as difficult or frustrating as its source material Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and the visuals are enough to please anyone who is looking for a good looking NES game. If you’re looking for a platformer different than most, this one is for you.

Fun Fact
One year after its NES debut in 1993, Gargoyle’s Quest II ported to the GameBoy in Japan, under the new title of Makaimura Gaiden: The Demon Darkness. The GameBoy port slight restructured the platforming to compensate for the reduced visible playfield, but is still nevertheless more difficult to play through than its Famicom/NES cousin due to the frequency of just-off screen spike pits and enemies. To reward playing this port, Capcom added an additional two levels towards the end of the game not found in the original. The GameBoy port of Gargoyle’s Quest II was scheduled to be released in North America in the summer of 1993, but it was de

layed and later cancelled, making the Japanese version something of a collector’s item.

#29MicroMachines

1991

CodeMasters

Racing

Price range: $10-15

Difficulty: 6

Region: North America and Europe Only

 

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?

Why you should play 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.

Fun fact

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.

#28River City Ransom

1989

Technos Japan

Beat ’em Up

Price range: $15-25

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

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.

Fun fact

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.

#27Castlevania

1987

Koanmi

Platformer

Price range: $8-12

Difficulty: 7

Region: All

 

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.

Why you should play it

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.

Fun Fact

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.

#26Rod Land

1992

Jaleco

Action Arcade

Price range: $60-250

Difficulty: 5

Region: Japan and Europe only

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.

Why you should play it

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.

Fun fact

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)

#25Contra

1988

Konami

Run ‘n Gun

Price range: $15-25

Difficulty: 8

Region: All

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.

Fun fact

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.

#24DuckTales

1989

Capcom

Platformer

Price range: $6-8

Difficulty: 4

Region: All

 

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 you should play it

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.

Fun fact

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.

 

 

#23Earth Bound

1991 (Unreleased)

Ape/Nintendo

RPG

Price range: $25-40

Difficulty: 7

Region: Japan only

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.

Fun Fact

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.

Former Nintendo localization manager Phil Sandhop has stated “At first, the production was just delayed. Then it never fit into the project mix that they [Nintend0] wanted to market.”

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

 

 

#22Ninja Gaiden II The Dark Sword of Chaos

1990

Techmo

Platformer

Price range: $8-15

Difficulty: 9

Region: All

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.

Fun fact

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.

Japanese Commercial

 

 

#21Super Spy Hunter

1991

Sunsoft

Racing shooter

Price range: $10-15

Difficulty: 8

Region: All

 

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 JokerJourney 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.

Fun fact

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.

#20Gradius II

1988

Konami

Shoot ‘Em Up

Price range: $30-30

Difficulty: 8

Region: Japan only

 

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.

Why you should play it

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.

Fun Fact

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.

#19Legacy of the Wizard/Dragon Slayer IV

1987

Falcom

Platformer

Price range: $6-8

Difficulty: 7

Region: All

 

Long ago, an evil dragon named Keela terrorized the land until a powerful magician managed to seal the fearsome dragon inside a magical dungeon. However, with the passage of time the seal has weakened and there is concern Keela may be able to break the seal. If that should happen, Keela would unleash untold terror upon the land.

To prevent this from happening, the Drasle family, descendants of the noble wizard who sealed Keela, open a portal beneath their home that leads to Keela’s dungeon. In the depths of the labyrinth await four fiends, guarding mystical crowns needed to revive the legendary Dragon Slayer sword, a holy blade capable of destroying Keela once and for all. Only by working together can the family hope to accomplish their daring task.

Why you should play it

What? You haven’t heard of Legacy of the Wizard? I’m not surprised. By and large, Legacy of the Wizard doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. Not only is it one of the few NES games to offer multiple playable characters all with unique abilities, it is one of the only NES games that would today be considered an “open world” game. See, what makes Legacy of the Wizard so unique and worth your attention is that it allows you to choose any member of the Drasle family and travel into the depths of the immense dungeon, all while never once holding your hand to tell you what to do or where to go.

Each family member has different attributes. For example, the father can move blocks but has poor jumping skills. The daughter can jump twice as high as everyone else, but takes double damage compared to the others. The pet monster can barely jump at all, but enemy monsters completely ignore it. You’ll need to use each member of the family throughout the game.

Although its basically a platformer, there are RPG elements  that make it far deeper than it would otherwise be. Enemies drop gold, keys, health, and power ups, all of which are precious commodities in your search for the holy crowns. Whenever you attack enemies, it will deplete your magic meter, which when empty means you won’t be able to attack. Luckily there are inns and shops scattered about the dungeon, as well as as the all-important password giver.

While not a title that stands out as a visual masterpiece, it does look better than many of its peers on the NES, and the NES version of Legacy of the Wizard is prettier than any version released. The distinctive single tile sprites are small and blocky, but even so they’re full of charm. The soundtrack, composed by Yuzo Koshiro, is brilliant, timeless, and deserves listening to endlessly.

To be fair, Legacy of the Wizard isn’t completely without its problems. A product of its time, there are uneven difficulty spikes scattered throughout the entire game, a considerable amount of backtracking time is required, and there are never any explanations given for what essential items do, who can use them or even how to use them. Everything you need to know in the game you have to either discover on your own through simple trial and error or use some kind of internet FAQ. For those who need a helping hand, I highly recommend this walkthrough.

Fun fact

Legacy of the Wizard was originally released in Japan as Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle family for the MSX. As the number would imply, it is the fourth game in the Dragon Slayer series. the Famicom port/remake of the second game Dragon Slayer II: Xanadu was released on the NES as Faxanadu, combining the words “Xanadu” with “Famicom”.  It is interesting to note that although Legacy of the Wizard is the forth game in the series, it was released on the NES several months before the release of Faxanadu.

#18Final Fantasy III

1990

Square

RPG

Price range: $10-15

Difficulty: 6

Region: Japan Only

 

In a remote village of Ur, four orphans were raised by the priest Topapa. A recent tremor has caused the Wind Crystal temple, sacred to the people of Ur, to sink into the earth. The four orphans decided to check on the Wind Crystal and found the temple had sunk into an underground cave. When they found the Crystal, it spoke to them and from its words they understood they were chosen for a much more important and world-embracing mission…Why you should play it

The real Final Fantasy III lost to the west until just a few years ago, this is damn near RPG perfection on the Famicom. While similar to the first Final Fantasy, the many improvements to the battle system, graphics, audio and overall structure allow it to endure the test of time and still be completely playable twenty two years after it was originally released.

At the start of the game, all four members of your party consist of Onion Knights capable of wielding various swords, but are unable to cast magic or use any special abilities. However, you’ll soon be able to make use of Final Fantasy III’s iconic “job” system. With each Elemental Crystal you visit, you’ll gain more jobs -character classes- to use. Jobs include Fighter, Black Mage, White Mage, Ninja, Viking, Shaman and many others. Each job has different capabilities and can use different equipment. You can switch Jobs at any time and mix and match learned abilities, allowing you to customize your party to suit your own unique play style.

Considering the global popularity of Final Fantasy today, it might come as a surprise that Final Fantasy III is a Famicom exclusive with no official NES counterpart. While RPGs have always been consistently popular in Japan, most western gamers in the NES era considered the genre to be confusing and difficult to get into; boring, even. It wasn’t until 1990 that the first Final Fantasy appeared in North America – by which time Japan was already seeing this third installment. In more recent years, 3D remakes of Final Fantasy III have sprung up on the DS and iOS, but for those interested in playing the original Famicom version in English, you can get a reproduction from NES Reproductions. You’ll need a special version of Super Mario Bros. 2 that has a full pinset.

Fun fact

Final Fantasy III is the last of the Final Fantasy RPGs until the tenth installment not to feature the Active Time Battle System the series is famous for. Many graphical elements were reused in Squaresoft’s SaGa trilogy on Gameboy, especially in SaGa 3, known as Final Fantasy Legend III in the west. This was likely done to reduce development time and expense for the GameBoy SaGa titles, but since Final Fantas III is easily one of the best looking Famicom games to begin with, why wouldn’t Squaresoft port their beautiful tile work to the GameBoy for games similar enough to make good reuse of it?

#17Famicom Wars

1988

Intelligent Systems

Turn Based Strategy

Price range: $15-25

Difficulty: 6

Region: Japan Only

 

The nations of Red Star and Blue Moon are at war. Each has deployed troops and works to obtain enough funds to buy the necessary military hardware to overcome the other side in warfare. You assume the role of commander-in-chief of either nation with the goal of ultimate victory over the other.

Why you should play it

The great granddaddy of Advance Wars, Famicom Wars is a game that established not only the Nintendo Wars series, but also put Turn-Based Strategy games on the console gaming map. Sure, there were console TBS games before it, but none were nearly as approachable, complex yet simple, and polished yet basic. Like all good games, Famicom Wars is easy to learn but difficult to master. There are maps you can spend hours on winning all the way, only to spend another few hours losing in fierce combat. You might not think it possible, but the AI can really put up quite a good challenge.

Visually sparse even for the Famicom, Famicom Wars uses kanji for it’s main menus you’ll constantly need to navigate, making it initially off-putting for English speaking gamers. However, once you figure out what each option does by either reading a walkthrough or simply through old fashioned trial and error, the sheer depth in Famicom War’s chess-like gameplay will make itself apparent. Once you understand how to play, you’ll find a uniquely appealing and addictive game even through the language gap. Luckily for retro oriented western gamers, Nintendo Wars hasn’t changed much over all these years. If you’ve learned how to play Advance Wars through the excellent in-game tutorials, you’ll be able to jump right in to Famicom Wars without a hitch. There are some minor differences, but by and large this is Advance Wars on the Famicom.

For more on Famicom Wars, check out my written or video review.

Fun fact

The sister series to Fire Emblem, Nintendo Wars has seen many sequels in Japan over the years. Following Famicom Wars, three entries were made on the GameBoy before the now well known GameBoy Advance and DS titles. In 1998, the original Famicom Wars was revived for the Nintendo Power Data Pak service in Japan.

The remake, called predictably enough, Super Famicom Wars, added in four player support, new units, fog of war and the basis for what would become the Advance Wars CO system. It is shockingly rare, so if you spot it for sale, don’t hesitate to pick up this gem.

#16Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse/Akumajou Densetsu

1989

Konami

Platformer

Price range: $8-15

Difficulty: 7

Region: All

 

In the year 1476, the immortal Count Vlad Tapes Dracula once again rises from his grave, his magic-bound ancestral home Castlevania materializing once again with him. Over the many centuries they have battled, the European people have become terrified of not only the Vampire lord Dracula, but also the Belmont linage as well. No longer welcome in Europe, the young Trevor Belmont rejected his duty to guard Europe and journeyed into isolation where he wouldn’t be feared.

Once realizing the Belmonts were not in Europe, Dracula found himself completely free of opposition, and quickly spread darkness across Europe. Dracula feed on the despair of the people, cursing the very land itself to damnation. Desperate for a hero, Trevor is called back to Europe to defeat his bloodline’s immortal foe. This time however, Dracula’s influence has corrupted many, and not even the powers of the Belmonts will be enough to destroy Dracula alone.

Why you should play it

With gameplay nearly identical to the first two titles, Konami’s “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach to the third entry in the Castlevania series allowed them to focus on expanding the scope of the classic Castlevania formula rather than trying to reinvent the wheel. Instead of returning to the linear confines of Castlevania 1 or the confusing and haphazard open world approach of Castlevania II, Castlevania III offers the player a sense of freedom and choice as they progress toward Dracula’s throne room. At the end of nearly every stage there are branching paths which lead to new areas completely different from each other. Some paths are easier than others, some are shortcuts, and some even lead to encounters with playable characters.

Beyond the typical whip wielding Belmont, Castlevania III has three additional playable characters that play vastly different from Trevor.  There is Grant the thief, nimble in the air, able to move faster, cling to move on walls and throw an infinite supply of knives. Next is Alucard, son of Dracula. Alucard attacks with a triad fire ball move and can turn into a bat and freely fly about as long as you have hearts. Last in Sypha, a holy mage who can cast many long range spells to make up for her weak defense and poor mobility. Trevor can only join up with one of the three at once, so there is a greater emphasis on replay in Castlevania III than nearly any title in the whole franchise.

Although the North American version is noteworthy for its highly detailed graphics thanks to the capabilities of the MMC5, the real star of the show is the audio, especially on the Famicom. Spearing no expense, Konami outfitted Castlevania III’s asian counterpart, Akumajou Densetsu, with a special graphic and soundchip combo called the Konami VRC6.

The Konmai VRC6 was a unique chip that allowed advanced visual effects similar to the MMC5, but even more importantly offered additional sound channels beyond what the Famicom can produce on its own. The superior sound, added to the reduced difficulty compared to the North American build, makes Akumajou Densetsu one of most recommended and sought after Famicom titles. You’ll need to preform a few mods to an NES to hear the superior music, but the differences are so pronounced it’s well worth it if you don’t otherwise want to simply import a Famicom. Below is a comparison between the NES and Famicom audio. Even if you own the US version, Akumajou Densetsu is a must-own game.  MMC5 may be impressive, but its nothing compared to VRC6.

Fun fact

The 2005 Xbox/PS2 entry in the series Castlevania: Curse of Darkness is a direct sequel to the events of Castlevania III. Curse of Darkness tells the story of Hector, a Devil Forgemaster and former servant of Dracula. Even though Dracula was once again killed by Trevor and his companions, Castlevania has rematerialized and Dracula’s curse continues to ravage the European countryside, spreading disease, mob violence, and heresy in its wake.

1997’s Symphony of the Night, the most popular game in the Castlevania series, makes many references to the events of Castlevania III, focusing once again on Alucard, who had fought alongside Trevor Belmont.

Castlevania III vs Akumajou Densetsu, MMC5 vs VRC6

#15Super Mario Bros.

1985

Nintendo

Platformer

Price range: $2-6

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

 

In the magical Mushroom Kingdom, Princess Toadstool has been kidnapped by the evil King Koopa. It’s up to the heroic Super Mario Bros. to rescue her! Travel through 32 levels of non-stop danger and excitement! Can the Mario Bros. save the Mushroom Princess? Why you should play it

You all knew it was comming, so let me get this one out of the way at last. What can I possibly say about Super Mario Bros. that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? Super Mario Bros. was as important to the NES as Donkey Kong was to arcades. It was Super Mario Bros. that launched the Nintendo brand into millions of households all around the world. It was Super Mario Bros. that showed Nintendo wasn’t another Atari. It was Super Mario Bros. that made such names as Koji Kondo and Shigaru Myamoto recognizable names to an entire generation of gamers. It was Super Mario Bros. that changed gaming forever.

Super Mario Bros. is now over 25 years old, yet it still is one of the best and most recommended titles not only for the NES, but gaming as a whole. It’s got everything that makes a game a classic – it’s simple to learn, full of secrets, has iconic visuals, a rock-steady soundtrack and most importantly, it’s fun, and one of the most replayable gaming experiences ever.

Even after the billionth time you play through stage 1-1, the hidden secrets, the challenging gameplay, and the drive to just get over that damn flagpole will have you reaching for Super Mario Bros. for play session one billion and one. A true must own, must play game. If you already own an NES, it’s as likely you already own Super Mario Bros. as it is that the princess is in another castle. However, if you don’t somehow own it, consider this a personal plea to get out from whatever rock you crawled under.

Fun fact

In the Japanese re-release of the Super Mario All Stars Collection for Wii, an artbook documenting the earliest phase of Super Mario Bros. was included. In the book are design memos for controls and gameplay that would have made Super Mario Bros. a very different game from the version we all know and love.

The book makes mention of an planned “Rocket” item that when collected, would allow Mario to fly about in the air after jumping when the B button was held down. Even more surprising, the A button was intended for various attacks including a punch, kick, rifle and even a beam gun! Although the booklet doesn’t say so outright, it’s likely that during these early planning phases Mario was going to attack enemies by shooting them rather than jumping on them. A Mario game that plays like a Megaman game? This I’d love to see!

#14Crisis Force

1992

Konami

Shooter

Price range: $20-160. It varies. A lot.

Difficulty: 6

Region: Japan Only

 

In the near future, alien invaders descend on the Earth, indiscriminately destroying cities and killing countless millions. To address this threat, mankind’s only hope lies with a male and female duo of pilots of experimental ships that can synchronize together into one mighty craft called the Crisis Force. Blast off as you fight against hordes of alien bio-monsters high in the sky!

Why you should play it

During a time when most developers had moved on from the Famicom to the bright possibilities of the 16-bit future, Konami continued to push the limits for what was thought possible on Nintendo’s aging hardware. Crisis Force doesn’t only play like many Genesis and PC Engine shmups, it looks like one as well. There are many times when you’ll be seriously questioning how this game is even possible on the Famicom.

Crisis Force is absolutely drop dead gorgeous, with highly detailed and colorful environments and some of the best sprite work seen in any game to grace the hardware. There are large sections of the game that move entire sprite layers independently at different rates, creating the illusion of parallax scrolling,  something technically beyond the capabilities of the Famicom.

Beyond the stunning visuals, Crisis Force is also a game with a great soundtrack and fast, fluid gameplay that rivals the best shooters on systems several times more powerful than the Famicom. There are the usual assortment of power ups at your disposal, and the ultimate synchro power up converts your craft into the mighty Crisis Force, a massive invincible craft with heavy firepower for a limited period of time. The game even supports two players simultaneously.

The game has multiple difficulty settings, making the overall experience as easy or as challenging as you like. The difference in the difficulty modes revolves around how many enemies appear on-screen at once as well as their bullet patterns. Like nearly all games of it’s kind, Crisis Force uses one hit deaths, so precision controls are vital to survival. As you would expect from Konami, the controls are flawless and there’s even the option to change the button mapping!

If you’re looking for a high quality, fast paced and visually impressive shooter that the average player can reasonably see through to the end (the determining factor that kept this spot from going to Recca) then look no further than Crisis Force.  I think that the game not only shows Konami’s commitment and dedication to the Famicom, but also what is possible with limited resources in general. A stunning gem of a game.

Fun fact

While not exactly a fun fact, I feel I should let you guys know this anyway. Finding a physical copy of Crisis Force has become increasingly difficult over the last several years as the game has continued to become more well known. Released in 1992 in Japan only, the game didn’t find itself in a very welcoming market for Famicom shooters, and as such, was only sold in limited quantities. The limited supply of Japanese carts, coupled with the fact there is no language barrier whatsoever makes Crisis Force one of the most desired imports and is the main contributing factor for the game’s rarity and price in import shops. I’ve seen cart only copies of Crisis Force for as much as $160 USD, and for that, you’re better off buying a Powerpak and simply running Crisis Force -and any other game you want- through Retrozone’s wonder instead.

#13Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

1987

Nintendo

Rhythm/Puzzle

Price range: $10-15

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

 

It’s a right jab, a left hook, an uppercut – it’s Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! where you’ll get the chance to compete against boxers from around the globe. Punch your way through 13 bouts in the minor, major and world circuits against tough contestants like Piston Honda, Glass Joe, Super Macho Man and many, many more! Defeat all your opponents and meet the ultimate challenge against the World Heavyweight Champion Mike Tyson in the greatest fight of all – The Dream Bout! Knockout Tyson and you can become WVBA (World Video Boxing Association) Champ!

Why you should play it

Punch-Out!! is a legendary game on the NES for many different reasons. It’s one of the best looking NES games thanks to its huge, well animated and detailed sprites. It has an extremely memorable and wonderful soundtrack composed by Kenji Yamamoto and Akito Nakatsuka. It has all the boxing moves you could hope for – left/right jabs, left/right hooks, dodging, blocking, ducking and even an uppercut. Finally, it has Mike Tyson, who at the time was the Boxing World Champion. What more could you ask for?

Punch-Out!! may look like a boxing game, but it actually has more in common with puzzle or rhythm games. Rather than attempt to simulate actual boxing, something even modern consoles struggle with, Punch-Out!! instead you constantly trying to outwit each opponent by carefully switching from the defense to the offense. You can button mash your way through the first few fights, but you’ll soon be getting knocked down again and again until you learn to play the game properly.

The whole idea of Punch-Out!! is to attack your opponent the moment they drop their guard by switching from defense to offense. Each opponent has a tell – a distinctive movement that indicates their about to attack. Most opponents need to be attacked the moment their tell appears so they drop their guard and you can get in multiple strikes. As the game progresses, tells become faster and more subtle, and attacks are more difficult to block or dodge.

Punch-Out!! is also fondly remembered for exposing innocent kids everywhere to its roster of boxers who, while ethnically diverse, are all ridiculously stereotypical, and in some cases, borderline racist. Even Arino Shinya, the comedian host of the incredibly popular Japanese show Game Center CX, commented on how the characters are slightly offensive for a Nintendo game during his playthrough of the game.

Even so, each of the fighters have plenty of personality and each has a distinct charm. Coupled with excellent gameplay and the audio/visual display, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! is an unforgettable experience. Are you a bad enough dude to beat Mike Tyson? He’s still one of the hardest bosses in gaming history, after all.

Fun fact

In 1984, Nintendo released the unusual looking Punch-Out!! in arcades around the world, and fans quickly took notice. Developed to use two 19″ monitors to address an overstock Nintendo had, Punch-Out!! was the first of several dual monitor arcade games.

Punch-Out!! the arcade game was programmed by Genyo Takeda with art by the famous Shigeru Miyamoto. The game featured a special chip that allowed single objects to be scaled, allowing the opposing fighter to be several times larger than would be otherwise possible at the time. A boxing game was chosen for this reason.

In 1986, Nintendo began to explore the idea of creating a Famicom conversion of Punch-Out!! and began to develop a special memory mapper chip to handle the opposing boxers in much the same way as the arcade version. Named the MMC2, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! and its variants was the only game ever made to use the chip.

Signing a partnership endorsement with then World Boxing Champion Mike Tyson to use his name and likeness in the home conversion, Nintendo released Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! in early 1987 in North America.

Initially Punch-Out!! was only available as special prizes of the Famicom Golf Tournament held in Japan. The Japanese special golden cartridge did not feature Mike Tyson, instead leaving Super Macho Man as the final boss. Eventually though, positive American sales figures pushed Nintendo of Japan to at last release Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! for Famicom.

Throughout the life of the NES, Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! continued to be one of the best selling and most popular titles for the system. In 1990, Nintendo’s contract with Tyson had expired and they felt it best not to renew the contract. To continue to sell the game, Tyson’s sprite was slightly edited and the character “Mr. Dream” was born.

In the terrible late 80’s cartoon Captain N: The Game Master, one of the villains that made regular appearances was Punch-Out!!’s King Hippo, who was blue for some reason. Its…disturbing.

#12Power Blade

1991

Taito

Platformer

Price range: $4-8

Difficulty: 5

Region: North America and Europe only

After years of war that devastated the planet, Earth was beginning to recover. In 2191, the New Earth government established a single Master Computer that would be in charge of governing all major cities and robot-police forces.

One day, aliens attack the Master Computer, making the Master control program malfunction. When all hope of stopping the Master Computer fails, the New Earth government sends in the mysterious man known as Nova, wielder of a unique energy boomerang known as the Power Blade with the ability to take down the Master Computer’s forces.

In order to access the Master Computer’s Control Center, Nova first has to obtain tape units from the six sectors surrounding the Master Computer. Each sector is heavily guarded by robots controlled by the aliens, and Nova has to locate and contact an agent first to receive an ID card used to access the security room located at the same sector. After defeating the security room guards, Nova can obtain the sector’s tape unit and use it to disarm the sector. After the six sectors have been disarmed, Nova must fight his way through the Control Center, destroy the Master Computer and restore order to society.

Why you should play it

Power Blade is hands down one of my favorite NES games by far. Nova, Arnold Schwarzenegger look-alike and boomerang tossing extraordinaire, is one of the best and most unappreciated videogame characters anywhere. This guy can throw three boomerangs at once in any direction, adorn a suit of solid armor that doesn’t slow him down in the least, and even toss supersonic concussion waves with his fists. Duke Nukem eat your heart out.

Beyond the awesome character, Power Blade also has great gameplay thanks in no small part to how closely it mimics Capcom’s Megaman franchise. You can tackle any area, in any order you want, most of the areas are inhabited by robotic animals very much in the Megaman style, and there’s even vanishing tiles in some areas that require careful timed jumps! One key difference is bosses do not bestow new weapons nor do they have any weaknesses or resistances, so the order one takes through Power Blade’s stages is less critical than the average Megaman title.

Power Blade is among the top tier best looking games on the system. Like other late NES games, the visuals are detailed, colorful and varied. Think of games like Sunsoft’s Batman or Natsume’s Shadow of the Ninja to get an idea of what to expect from Power Blade. Backgrounds often feature animation and the sprites themselves are very well animated and spring to life in ways few other NES sprites do. Nothing feels half-done in Power Blade.

Likewise, Power Blade’s soundtrack, composed by the extremely talented Kinuyo Yamashita [best known for composing Castlevania 1], rivals any of the best Koji Kondo or even Megaman tunes you can think of. As with her other works, Power Blade brings many catchy, memorable, and remix-worthy tunes to an already great looking game.

Power Blade is a bit uncommon, but it isn’t nearly as expensive as its sequel and luckily, it’s also much better than it’s sequel as well.  Tracking down a copy is well worth it for NES collectors everywhere. This is a true NES hidden gem.

Fun fact

Power Blade started off life under the title Power Blazer in Japan. Power Blazer, created by Taito, is a comical platformer starring a blue suited little man who throws a boomerang to attack enemies. It is rife with some of the most difficult platforming to be found in any Famicom title, and also suffers from fairly poor control and technical issues such as slow movement and a very short jump height. All in all, Power Blazer was a typical, completely unremarkable release that stood out like a sore thumb compared to the usual extremely high quality Taito releases in the late Famicom era.

When the game was to be released for the NES, many localization changes were made to vastly improve the game in ways almost unheard of at the time or even now. First, the blue clad little man was replaced with the awesome Nova. Nova can run faster, jump higher, take more damage, throw his boomerang in any direction and even throw multiple boomerangs at once. In addition to all the other improvements, the idea of the Power Blade suit was added, which would allow Nova to throw energy waves and act as armor, protecting him from damage three times.

All the tweaks to the main character would have already made Power Blade vastly superior to Power Blazer,  but the localization team wasn’t done yet. Power Blazer received a total overhaul in level design that expanded on the slightly Metroid feel of Power Blazer’s stages. While maintaining the same overall theme (a bio-mechanical jungle, a shuttle launchpad, a furnace, etc) all of Power Blazer’s levels were redesigned to incorporate multiple paths with much better and much less repetitive platforming. To encourage players to explore the entire level, the idea of the informent with the keycards was introduced, and a timer was added to give player’s a gentle reminder that they should not linger in one area for too long.

For more on Power Blade, check out my full written review here.

#11Megaman 3

1990

Capcom

Platformer

Price range: $10-15

Difficulty: 5

Region: All

It is the year 2010. After being defeated twice, Dr. Wily claims to be a changed man, and wants to team up with Dr. Light once again to build robots to benefit mankind.

Dr. Wily and Dr. Light work together on a “peace-keeping” robot named Gamma, a massive Robot so powerful that once finished,would be able to stop anyone who tried to take over the world as Wily did. Gamma uses a special new form of power generated from newly discovered, extremely rare and valuable energy crystals.

As the two doctor’s search, they discover that there are eight energy crystals being guarded by yet another set of crazed robot masters.

Megaman is sent in once again to defeat the robots and retrieve the crystals, all the while being shadowed by a mysterious red robot that seems to only fight Megaman to test him. What is the secret to this mystery? Has Wily truly changed? What will happen when Gamma is finished?

Why you should play it

Megaman III is near perfection on the NES. Capcom, ever the ones to not mess with a winning formula, produced a gem that’s as iconic to the NES as Mario is. You run, shoot, jump and climb ladders. You progress through the stages, fight each robot master, and gaintheir powers. 3 adds two new features to the gameplay – sliding and Rush, Megaman companion robo-dog.

Pressing down and B causes Megaman to slide,a new ability that allows him to gain a quick speed boost to escape enemy attacks and allow him to access narrow areas he normally would not be able to while standing. As Megaman can jump out of a slide, the speed boost and the reduction in size while sliding greatly add to Megaman’s agility in battle.

The other major addition is Rush, Megaman’s robo-dog sidekick. Rush doesn’t directly aid Megaman in combat, but rather serves the same role the three Items did in 2 in that he provides a platform for Megaman to gain access to otherwise unreachable areas. Rush has three forms: Rush Coil, Rush Jet, and Rush Marine. Rush Coil acts as a spring board to fling Megaman upward beyond his usual jump height, Rush Jet allows Megaman to freely fly about, and Rush Marine serves the same use as Rush Jet while Megaman is underwater.

As with all other Megaman games, the visuals here are top notch. Backgrounds are detailed and large enemy sprites are the norm. Megaman looks the same as always, but the robot masters this time around are all appealing to look at with unique appearances that won’t be forgotten anytime soon. Megaman 3 has some of the most varied stages of any game in the series. Gemini Man’s stage is a very cool multi-colored cavern that seems to be in space or something. It’s awesome.

Finally, the soundtrack is nothing short of amazing. Many of the tracks from the game are amongst the catchiest, most memorable chiptunes you’ll ever hear. The title theme in particular just might be one of the best melodies used for any game’s title screen, ever. I consider it a must-listen for anyone who is a fan of 8-bit gaming.

In many ways, Megaman III feels like the pinnacle of design on the NES. The longest game in the classic series by far at twenty one stages, when you reach the ending it’s both satisfying and rewarding.There are a few minor hiccups, but by and large Megaman III is a fantastic game. Had it been the final Megaman game, comparisons to Return of the Jedi could be made – it’s that good. Luckily for Megaman fans, the series went on and we saw even better games down the road. For all it got right, Megaman III is a must own classic either on the NES or the Famicom.

Fun fact

While Megaman creator Keiji Inafune has never directly said so, it’s pretty obvious the inspiration for Megaman’s sidekick robot dog Rush came from Friender, the robo-dog sidekick to Casshern of the 1973 anime series Neo-Human Casshern. You just need to watch the opening sequence for that anime to see the influences. Friender can transform into a jet, a sub, a drill and more.

In an interview with Nintendo Power in the October 2007 issue, Inafune explained that he was disappointed with “…what went into the game and what was behind the release of the game.” He also stated that he was forced to put the game out before he thought it was ready. According to Inafune, the team lost the main project planner, so Inafune himself had to take over that job for completing the game. Inafune concluded, “I knew that if we had more time to polish it, we could do a lot of things better, make it a better game, but the company [Capcom] said that we needed to release it as it was. The whole environment behind what went into the production of the game is what I least favored. Numbers one and two – I really wanted to make the games; I was so excited about them. Number three – it just turned very different.”

For additional background for Megaman III, check out my written review here.

#10Kirby’s Adventure

1993

HAL Labs

Platformer

Price range: $8-12

Difficulty: 5

Region: All

 

After waking from a nap without dreams, Kirby goes to the Fountain of Dreams to investigate. Kirby learns King Dedede has stolen the Star Rod, broken it into seven pieces, then scattered the pieces across Dreamland. Without the Star Rod, nobody will be able to dream, and Dreamland will soon fall into chaos. Kirby decides to track down the fragments of the Star Rod and save Dreamland from disaster.

Why you should play it

Born on a system already saturated with hundreds of platformer action games, Kirby’s Adventure may have been late to the party, but it stands out as one of the best, most innovative and most unique videogames not only on the NES, but on any system you can think of. Although it is a short, downright easy game,  Kirby’s Adventure is honestly best played as slowly as possible. The game lacks any sort of timer, conveniently employs a battery to record the player’s progress, and has an unusually lethargic pacing that rewards careful, slow, and methodical players. The entire game is built to be savored as if it were an elegant dessert served at a five star restaurant after a filling meal. An apt metaphor, as Kirby’s Adventure was among the final few noteworthy releases on either the Famicom or NES.

To begin to understand what makes the game so unusually good, you need to examine it’s elements closely. At the core of the game, introduced for the first time, is Kirby’s copy ability. When Kirby inhales an enemy, he can eat it to copy its power, allowing Kirby to do basically anything – wield a sword, shoot lasers, turn to stone, become a fireball, or even pilot a UFO. In all, there are twenty six unique abilities to acquire throughout the game. Kirby can also dash, slide kick and freely float/fly.

The freedom of mobility Kirby has, added to his extremely large arsenal of potential abilities, makes revisiting each of the dozens of stages in Kirby’s Adventure a blast. There are even some stages with hidden exits that open hidden stages just like in Super Mario World. Each of these exits unlocks new, hidden areas, such as bonus mini games and warps.

Having the advantage of being released at the end of the NES’s life when developers had fully tapped into the system’s potential, Kirby’s Adventure is without a doubt one of the best looking games on the NES, using more colors onscreen at once than most NES players would think possible on the hardware. Every stage in the game pops with vibrant, living colors that extenuate the cartoon concept the game invokes. Even when there are relatively few colors onscreen, the pallets are always wisely chosen to convey the vividly animated, cartoonish sprites.

Kirby’s Adventure is a complete package NES title that you can’t go wrong with. Kirby appeals to boys, girls, men, women, young and old. If you don’t already own this gem, you’re missing out on without a doubt, one of the best Nintendo games ever produced. Check out my full written review for more information.

Fun Fact

One of the final stages in Kirby’s Adventure is a throwback to the original GameBoy Kirby’s Dreamland game. In this stage, the level designs and enemy placements are lifted directly from the GameBoy, and the stage is even presented completely in black and white, save for the ever pink Kirby sprite. This might not seem like much, but I feel this tip of the hat legitimizes the often overlooked first Kirby game and also hinted at the future success the series would see, with the eventual release of Kirby’s Dreamland 2, which ranked among the top 25 GameBoy/GameBoy Color games list.

In 2002, HAL Lab revisited Kirby’s Adventure by completely remaking it for the Gameboy Advance. The game was released in North America titled Kirby: Nightmare in Dreamland and was a big success for Nintendo and HAL once again. There are minor changes and the game is still incredibly fun in the sequel, but for whatever reason, the remake isn’t nearly as colorful and lush with detail that the NES Kirby’s Adventure was, despite being on vastly superior hardware.

In November 2011, a forced perspective 3-D port of Kirby’s Adventure became available on the Nintendo 3DS eShop. This port is exceptional, and even cleans up some of the original game’s slowdown. Even so, it is my opinion the NES version still surpasses this digital release. Adding 3D to Kirby is ultimately just a gimmick and isn’t worth the extra asking price over the Wii VC release.

I own a boxed copy of Kirby no Hoshi for the Famicom. The box and the game are in excellent shape. If you are interested in purchasing it, shoot me an offer. satoshimatrix at hotmail dot com.

#9Little Samson

1992

Taito

Platformer

Price range: $90-150

Difficulty: 7

Region: All

 

Ta-Keed, the Prince of Darkness, has managed to escape from his supernatural penitentiary where he has had centuries to plot exactly how he will take revenge on those that locked him away. Emperor Hans sends his troops to deal with this threat, but they are no match for the ultimate evil one. As an alternative, the emperor summons the bearers of four Magical Bells. These four adventurers must make their way to the castle and work as a team if they are to destroy Ta-Keed.

Why you should play it:

This game kicks ass and serves as a big “in your face” to anyone who said that complex platformers couldn’t be done on the NES. Taito, one of the few remaining third party developers to hang on when most others had jumped ship to the SNES, produced one of the most innovative platformers that, in time, would also become one of the rarest, as well as most well deservingly sought after NES titles.

Little Samson, despite its misleading, awful boxart, is without a doubt one of the best looking and technically advanced games to grace the NES. While the game does certainly look beautiful in screenshots, what still shots can’t convey is how brilliantly animated the sprites are, and how the excellent spritework on display here puts nearly every other 8-bit game to shame. In fact, the sprites very often resemble typical Sega Genesis sprites. It’s quite evident that quite a bit of talent and polish was put into this one little game.

There are four playable characters in Little Samson that once assembled, can be swapped out at will at any given time to afford the player unparalleled freedom throughout the stages. Each of the four characters have unique abilities which are essential throughout the game. The four characters are as follows:

Samson is a human and serves as the game’s lead hero. He has average speed and a decent lifebar. He can scale walls and hang across ceilings, and also grab onto walls and ceilings while jumping. He is the most well rounded of the group. His main attack are bells which he throws horizontally similar to Megaman’s Rockbuster.

Kikira is a dragon who has a higher, more floaty jump than Samson. She can hover for short bursts, similar to Princess Toadstool in Super Mario Bros USA. She breathes fire, and can even charge her attack for more damage, again similar to Megaman. Her fireballs travel in an upward arch. She does not slip on ice.

Gamm is a Golem and as such, he is extremely strong with the highest lifebar. However, he is very slow and cannot jump very high. Spikes do not hurt him, affording him to stand directly on them. He attacks with his fist horizontally, but he can thrust it directly upward to make up for his lack of mobility.

K.O. is a tiny mouse who can enter areas that others cannot. He is the fastest character and the highest jumper, but also has the smallest lifebar, capable of only taking 2 or 3 hits. He can cling to almost any surface except spikes. K.O drops powerful time-delay bombs, similar to Samus in Morth Ball mode in Metroid.

The freedom to choose between any of the four characters throughout the entire game gives Little Samson rather high replay value. Should you try and solo the game as much as possible as Samson, or up the challenge by mostly using K.O? As if that weren’t already enough, Little Samson is also quite lengthy for a linear patformer, and uses a simple four character password system if you ever want to jump to your favorite area of the game.

Had Little Samson been part of an established franchise, had any kind of marketing campaign behind it or just simply came out a little earlier than late 1992, it’s very possible that it would be remembered as the true classic that it is. If you’re looking for a challenging, rare, and expensively good NES game, you just found it.

Fun fact:

Little Samson, despite its brilliance, had very poor sales in the west. Despite its brilliance, it had everything going against it – not only was it developed exclusively on obsolete hardware, it was not attached to any established game franchise for mass-market name recognition. It had a virtually non-existent ad campaign and to top off its problems, the North American release of Little Samson had among the worst NES boxart since Megaman 1. In fact the boxart even resembles the typical North American Capcom art style heavily used at the time.

The initial poor sales and general market apathy halted further production of the game, squashed any hope for a future sequel and raised the red flag to other NES developers that the market had moved on from the NES. I find all of this to be truly a shame – there’s true franchise potential in Little Samson. One can only hope that the game someday sees a revival. This is one of gaming’s most critically underrated classics.

#8Megaman 5

1992

Capcom

Action Platformer

Price range: $15-25

Difficulty: 6

Region: All

 

It is the year 2013. Dr. Wily has been defeated once again and is living in hiding, bringing the world once again to peace. Proven innocent of wrongdoing, Russian scientist Dr. Cossack now lives in Japan and works alongside with Dr. Light in his efforts to better mankind through the development of robotics.

A few months later, the peace is shattered when suddenly Protoman, Megaman’s mysterious elusive brother appears to be giving commands to several robots attacking the city as Wily bots have done in the past! Protoman has always lived by his own rules, but neither Dr. Light or Megaman could imagine Protoman doing something like this for no reason.

Just before he could send Megaman into action to investigate, Protoman appears at the lab and kidnaps Dr. Light! Clutching his brother’s signature yellow scarf left behind, Megaman insists on stepping into the fray once again to save the city, rescue Dr. Light and discover the mystery behind Protoman’s actions.

Why you should play it

Taking the unusual choice of sticking to the NES rather than jumping ship to the SNES, Capcom once again were defying popular expectations that Megaman would make its 16-bit arrival by 1992. Many were skeptical of Megaman 5 right from the get-go since Megaman 4 had been relatively mediocre compared to the first three games. Would Capcom be able to pull a rabbit out of their hat and produce a game that surpassed even Megaman 3? Many felt it was unlikely.

Boy were they wrong. Megaman 5, as it turned out, is an incredible refinement of the previous games and stands as a strong example that not only had Capcom not lost its mojo, but also that the NES still wasn’t a dead system.

Everything that was great about the earlier Megaman titles is back. The visuals are lush with great color pallet choices, detailed animated sprites and more of the varied locales the Megaman series is known for. The music is once again typical Megaman level excellence and the boss designs are once again unique and interesting, unlike some of Megaman 4’s. Dustman, anyone?

The level designs are all all extremely memorable in Megaman 5. In one stage you’ll be inverting your gravity like in Metal Storm. In another stage you’ll be floating upwards on giant bubbles and then riding some kind of jet ski, or running along a speeding train on your way to the engine car. Even the somewhat average stages throw in some interesting twists. For example, Gyroman’s stage ends with an elevator that forces careful dodging of spikes, and Starman’s stage takes advantage of low gravity to allow you to jump nearly the entire height of the screen. The team really had pulled off what I consider to be some of the strongest level designs the NES ever saw.

Although at first glace it may not seem to play any differently from the older titles, the change of the charge shot from a narrow beam to a huge blast is one of the biggest improvements Megaman 5 has going for it. You now fire roughly a 4×4 tile blast that destroys most enemies in a single hit, and it can also deal major damage to nearly every boss. You could argue that overuse of the charge shot Mega Buster makes the game overly easy and ruins the fun of switching to the robot master weapons for situational use, but on the other hand, the charge shot feels so damn good in Megaman 5 that you won’t even care about such things as game balance.

Even without abusing the awesome charge shot, the game still falls towards the easy end of the spectrum. That isn’t to say Megaman 5 isn’t challenging or devoid of replay value though. On the contrary, I feel Megaman 5 is one of the blue bomber’s best outings, not only on the NES but on any console. It’s a bit less common than the other NES Megaman titles and as such, you’ll probably pay a premium for it, but if you enjoy classic Capcom at their best, you can’t go wrong with Megaman 5.

Fun fact

 

Capcom held a robot master creation contest in Japan where kids could submit drawings and ideas for robot masters for the game. The eight finalist for Rockman 4 received an exclusive gold cartridge as a prize, but the Rockman 5 finalists didn’t receive anything, and the robots were redesigned several times by Keiji Inafune anyway.
Concept art for Megaman 3 shows early ideas for robotic sidekicks including a robotic dog which became Rush, and a robotic bird which became Beat here. Beat, roughly based on Megaman’s helmet, is a robot built from the previous game’s framed antagonist Dr. Cassock.
When Megaman 5 came out for the NES in North America, Nintendo Power magazine heavily promoted it, even featuring a robot master creation contest for fun and showcased many ideas, some names of which would go on to be robots in future games! Megaman 5 won the category for best NES graphics in a 1992 poll in Nintendo Power.

The basic plot for the 1994 American produced Ruby Spears Megaman cartoon series is based roughly on Megaman 5. In the show, the secondary antagonist to Dr. Wily is Protoman, who seems to side with Wily on his own accord rather than being misunderstood or framed. Of the many inconsistencies with the games, the Protoman issue is probably the most pronounced. It’s very likely that the writers of the show had never played through Megaman 5 and thus didn’t know that, spoilers, Protoman is suppose to be a good guy. The show’s influence was such that many casual fans came to assume Protoman was the bad guy and were often confused by his future appearances aiding Megaman.

Finally, take a look at the North American box art for Megaman 5. For whatever reason, I’ve always loved this box art. Megaman has this smug look on his face like he appears to run on air and shooting something, all the while ignoring Gravityman, even going as far to absorb Gravityman’s attack with is hand. I picture Megaman saying “Bitch, please. Don’t you know who you’re dealing with? I’m goddamn Megaman!”

Awesome Japanese commercial for Rockman 5

#7Tengen TETЯIS

1989

Tengen

Puzzle

Price range: $40-60

Difficulty: 5

Region: North America Only

 

From behind the iron curtain comes TETЯIS – a dynamic puzzle that seems easy enough: Rotate and flip moving geometric blocks into unbroken rows. When you completely fill up the bottom row, it disappears from the screen and your score rises. When enough rows vanish, the blocks descend faster and faster. Nothing to it, right? Wrong! When you can’t find the way to make the pieces fit together and more blocks tumble down to clog your screen, you’ll wish you had ten hands – and ten brains.

Why you should play it

That’s right – an unlicensed game among the top 10 NES and Famicom games of all time. We all know Tetris, so I won’t spend any time explaining its concept. Instead, let me go over why this version of Tetris is not only superior to Nintendo’s own version of Tetris, but also why Tengen Tetris is quite arguably the definitive version of Tetris even to this day.

As with other releases of Tetris, there is a standard endless mode where the player can choose the starting speed and garbage handicaps. In this mode, every 25 lines you clear ups the difficulty. This mode allows the player to play the game at their own pace; at the highest difficulty with the most amount of garbage blocks, even seasoned Tetris masters will find a challenge.

More importantly though, are the other modes Tengen Tetris offers that other versions do not – multiplayer modes. First is a two-player competitive mode where players race to complete each level. This is similar to the GameBoy version, but you don’t need any special cable.

There is also a completely original co-operative mode.  Here, both players drop pieces onto the same enlarged playfield the same time. This mode really changes things up, and makes for some of the most fun you’ll ever have with Tetris. What’s more, this mode can even be played with the computer. The A.I is surprisingly good and understands Tetris quite well. The only problem with this mode is that the two falling peices can’t intersect with each other, and from time to time, you’ll be in the computer’s way or vise-versa, causing mistakes. Even so, this mode is extremely fun and innovative. I can’t honestly think of any other puzzle games that try something like this.

Visually, Tengen Tetris is rather sparse, but this is Tetris – you don’t play it for the visuals. For what it’s worth, the pieces are textured to give them a bit of depth typically missing from other builds. The game doesn’t make much use of color, but again as the GameBoy would prove, you don’t need color to make a fantastic version of Tetris.

The audio in the Tengen version of Tetris was composed by Brad Fuller, who included four Russian folk songs: Loginska, Bradinsky, Karinka, and Troika. Each track is vastly different and will appeal to different moods when playing Tetris. The slow, soothing Loginska is best played after a long day at the office, and Bradinsky is best for when you only have a few minutes to play. The musical selection really accomplishes a lot considering how few tracks there are.

There are also two other, completely different builds of Tetris for the Famicom and NES. To the left is the Famicom version released by Bulletproof Software in 1987. This version predates the others, lacks multiplayer and has a very awkward control scheme. Nintendo’s build of Tetris (below) is easily the most common, but it too lacks multiplayer and many of the interesting modes that makes Tengen’s version so great.

Unfortunately, due to its troubled history (which I’ll explain below) the Tengen version of Tetris commands a hefty price and is actively sought out on the collector’s market. It’s unlicensed nature also means it will never be released on the Wii Virtual Console.

Nevertheless, if you happen across a copy, strongly consider picking it up. This is one of the best iterations of the soviet mind game ever produced.

History

First, special thanks to Frank Cifaldi for clearing up some misconceptions and fully flushing out the background information on Tetris. If you love retro gaming, be sure to visit his site lostlevels.org for tons of great exclusive and interesting gaming articles.

In 1984, Russian Soviet Academy of Sciences researcher Alexey Pajitnov began to design a PC puzzle game based on his favorite board game called Pentominos. Not wanting an exact copy, Pajitnov simplified Pentominos from five pieces to four, using geometric shapes composed of four squares connected at right angles called tetrominos. The object of his game was to contrast as many horizontal lines as possible. Pajitnov named his creation Tetris, a combination of the words tetrominos and tetra, the Greek word for four.

Over the next few years, the game was ported to many Russian computers and arcades and towards the end of the decade, it was one of the most sought after licenses on the Nintendo Famicom.

Robert Stein, representing Andromeda Software, approached ELORG, the Russian government established department to deal with the  foreign sales of software. There he secured what he believed to be the worldwide rights of Tetris for all systems, but unbeknownst to him, he had acquired the legal rights for computer software distribution of Tetris only.

 

While Tetris was successful in PC markets, Stein wanted to tap into the growing home console market, and first sold the rights to Henk Rogers at Bullet Proof Software in Japan, and soon after to Atari Games’s Tengen division in the United States. BPS quickly released it’s version of Tetris in Japan where it became an overnight success thanks to how faithful it was to the PC version, despite extremely awkward controls. Meanwhile, Tengen were forced to delay their version when lead programmer Ed Logg left to work on other projects. An early prototype version of Tengen’s Tetris was shown at CES in 1988, where Nintendo also had a booth. As a result, Nintendo became aware of Tengen’s build of Tetris well before they began to program their own version of Pajitnov’s little game.

In the early phases of Game Boy development, BPS’s Henk Rogers, representing Nintendo, attempted to contact Robert Stein again to secure possible handheld rights from him. When Stein was unreachable, Rogers decided to fly to Moscow and speak to ELORG directly. When presented with the Famciom version of Tetris, ELORG was shocked to see a console version of Tetris existed, as they are under the impression those rights had never been sold. According to them, Robert Stein never had the legal rights to sell Tetris to BPS in the first place, meaning their Famicom version was illegal.

Wanting to get on the Russians’ good side, Rogers quickly cut them a check to apologize before proceeding to negotiate a deal for the handheld rights. It’s likely that this check is what saved the Famicom version from being pulled from shelves, though it likely also halted future Japanese production runs. Impressed by Rogers, ELORG offered to sign a deal for the console rights to Nintendo, since Tengen, just like Bulletproof Software, did not have the legal rights to the license. Nintendo knew if they could obtain the sole console rights, it would mean the version Tengen were hard at work developing would become instantly worthless. Since Nintendo already hated Tengen for circumventing their lockout chip, the temptation to thwart them was all too enticing.

The race was on. Henk Rogers arranged for Nintendo’s senior lawyer Howard Lincoln and then-Nintendo president Minoru Arakawa to fly directly to Moscow to get the console rights ASAP. A few days later, Nintendo were the sole rightful, legal holders to both console and handheld rights of Tetris.

Just as Tengen had finished production and were getting ready to release their build of Tetris to stores, Nintendo sent them a fax informing Tengen of their acquisition of all legal rights, and demanding a cease and desist of Tengen’s version of Tetris. For Tengen, this was nothing short of a declaration of war. There was no way Tengen would take this insult from their mortal enemy.

Ignoring Nintendo’s demands, Tengen released their version of Tetris in May of 1989 and quickly sold tens of thousands of copies. A mere four weeks later, Nintendo released their own build for the NES and took Tengen to court over the legality of their version. Within weeks, the U.S. District Court sided with Nintendo and issued an injunction barring Tengen from further distributing their game, and further ordered all existing copies of the game be destroyed. In all, 268,000 Tengen Tetris cartridges were seized and later destroyed.

As a result of the fiasco, Tengen’s Tetris is one of the NES’s holy grails, and usually fetches a premium price. Even so, sales records indicate that before the recall, Tengen had sold some 100,000 copies, making Tengen Tetris one of the more common holy grails of the NES.

For more on the legal history of Tetris, check out the excellent BBC documentary called Tetris: From Russia with Love. There is also an abridged documentary of Tetris in G4’s Icons series.

Music

In 1987, Japanese composer working for Bulletproof Software Hiroshi Suzuki sampled the public domain Russian folk song Korobeiniki for the titlescreen music of the MSX and Famicom versions of Tetris. Two years later, Nintendo’s famous Hirokazu “Hip” Tanaka rearranged the entire version of Korobeiniki for the Type A” music in the GameBoy pack-in version of Tetris. It is this version that has become so widely known and associated with Tetris. Strangely, Hip Tanaka choose not to use Korobeiniki at all for the Nintendo NES release.

An orchestrated version of the original Russian folk song, Korobeiniki. Definitely worth a listen.

Co-op Gameplay video of Tengen’s Tetris

 

#6Final Fantasy

1987

Square

RPG

Price range: $10-20

Difficulty: 6-8 [depending on party choice]

Region: All

 

The world is veiled in darkness. Winds don’t blow, the seas are stormy, and the earth rots. All people can hope for is that the ancient prophecy will be finally fulfilled. “When the world is veiled in darkness, four warriors will come…” And indeed, they come – four warriors bathed in pure light arrive in the kingdom of Coneria, ready to begin their quest to restore light to the world.

Why you should play it

Although there were console RPGs before it, none were even close to Final Fantasy. Compared even to the Enix’s massive Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy oozes craftsmanship, polish, and a downright epic scope. This one title would revolutionize what RPGs were, and it would also become the benchmark for every console RPG to follow it.

From the moment you press Start, you’re presented with a game that defied pre-existing RPG conventions and created its own in their place. Rather than playing as a single soldier traveling across the land aimlessly, Final Fantasy has you assemble a party of any four warriors out of six character classes. This marked one of the first console RPGs that allowed a party of multiple characters, let alone one that allowed you to assemble your own party.

The ability to make any party from the six character classes is really at the core of what makes this game so fantastic. Each class has individual strengths and weaknesses. For example, the Fighter is strong and has high defenses, but can’t use any magic. The Black Mage has weak physical attacks and awful defenses, but they can conjure powerful elemental spells. The White Mage has the weakest attacks of all, but she can cast vital healing and support magic to aid the party in battle. Creating a balanced mix of characters that compensate for each others weakness is a key strategy, but again, what makes Final Fantasy so unique is that you don’t necessarily have to make a balanced party. Want a party of four fighters without any healers? Your call. Want to try a party of four Black Mages? Not the best idea, but go for it. The party you choose at the start of the game largely determines how difficult your journey will be, allowing the player to tailor the game’s challenge to suit their own tastes.

The battle system is entirely turn based and menu driven, allowing you to choose commands for each of your warriors individually every turn. This allows you to dynamically adapt to any given situation by telling some members to attack, use magic, use an item, or even run while others do completely different actions. It might seem obvious that the game would use a battle system like this, but before Final Fantasy, RPG battle systems weren’t nearly this complex. Still, the battle system does has some flaws and shows signs of age. Among the more annoying aspects, if you command two or more characters to attack a single enemy and the first character kills it, all remaining party members told to attack that enemy will simply attack the area where the enemy was, thus wasting their turn. Another issue comes from the game’s magic system. Instead of using a more modern MP magic system, Final Fantasy uses a strange “charge” system where your magic users will only be able to use spells a few times before running out of charges. There are no ethers here; if you want to recharge your magic, you need to find a town, which is a huge problem when exploring caves and dungeons. As a result, you’ll find yourself rationing magic only for times when you truly need it.

Visually, Final Fantasy is a remarkably colorful, lush game that masterfully shows what could be done with small sprites on limited hardware. There are several dozen enemy designs you’ll face throughout the game to keep things fresh, as well as many varied environments such as forests, caves, mountains and even underwater ruins. Luckily, you won’t have to travel the vast world on foot alone – eventually you will gain a ship to travel the seas, a canoe to travel rivers too narrow for your ship, and eventually an airship, allowing you to try anywhere in the world.

As fans of the series know, Final Fantasy does not disappoint on the audio front. Square’s now famous Nobuo Uematsu composed what can only be described as one of the best soundtracks on the NES. There are a great many tunes in the game and each of them are memorable, iconic, and instantly recognizable. Even if you’ve never played Final Fantasy before you’ve nevertheless undoubtedly heard the Prelude, Anthem, and Victory Fanfare themes at least a few times. They are as much of videogame pop culture as the Super Mario or Zelda themes are.

Despite how many early RPG conventions it broke, Final Fantasy is firmly rooted in 80’s RPG design when it comes to leveling. The game has often steep difficulty curves that can only be surmounted with a considerable amount of level grinding. The good news is that for the most part, battles become easier and faster the more you level up, but even so, it is important to know what you’re getting into if you choose to play the original version of Final Fantasy.

It seem unimaginable now, but there was a time when Final Fantasy was just another game on the store shelf with an untested idea that Americans could care about RPGs enough for the game to be a hit. Over two decades later, the series enjoys a level of popularity that leads the entire gaming industry, and it can all be traced back to the quality of this original version. It may be crude by today’s standards, but Final Fantasy was truly groundbreaking and is without a doubt, the best RPG on the NES and Famicom.

For those interested in playing the original Final Fantasy, here’s a helpful map, taken from the GBA remake.

Fun fact

By 1987, a small Japanese publisher named Square was in financial trouble. Most of their games were not selling very well. Hironobu Sakaguchi, Square’s lead designer, director and producer, decided to attempt one more game. He felt that if this project was not successful, it would mean he was not cut out for his line of work and would retire from the gaming industry as a result. After several action games such as King’s Knight and 3D World Runner, Sakaguchi wanted to focus his talents on telling a fantasy driven story. He ironically named this do or die final project “Final Fantasy”.

When the game was successful in Japan, the team got the go ahead to produce a sequel called Final Fantasy II. By 1990, the team had reached critical success with their release of Final Fantasy III. Around the same time, Nintendo of America expressed interest in the game, and shortly after Final Fantasy III launched in Japan, North American gamers were treated to the original game for the first time. Although Final Fantasy was successful in North America, it came somewhat late and didn’t have nearly the splash it saw in Japan. Most western gamers felt put-off by RPGs.

In 1991, the Super NES was launched, and along with it, Final Fantasy IV.  It was decided that Final Fantasy had sold well enough to warrant translating Final Fantasy IV, but it would also require a name change to Final Fantasy II,  as the real Final Fantasy II, as well as Final Fantasy III, were skipped over in the west. It wouldn’t be until decades later that western gamers would be able to play the missing games and every Final Fantasy game would be available in English.

Late in the Famicom’s life, Final Fantasy was packaged with Final Fantasy II and released together in a single cartridge. This version came in an attractive large white Famicom cartridge in the style of an NES cartridge. It unfortunately features many bugs in both games that make it inferior to the original standalone releases. Nevertheless, the Final Fantasy I-II double set is a collector’s item that is sought after by fans of the series.

Over the years, Final Fantasy has been remade on multiple platforms including the Playstation’s Final Fantasy Origins, GBA’s Final Fantasy Dawn of Souls, and the PSP’s Final Fantasy 20th Anniversary. Of all the remakes, the PSP remake is hands down the best, with beautiful redrawn HD sprites and a masterfully arranged soundtrack.

Awesome commercial for Final Fantasy I-II

#5Metroid

1987

Nintendo R&D1

Action Platformer

Price range: $8-12

Difficulty: 8

Region: All

 

In a far away galaxy in the future, the normally peaceful Galactic Federation and the pirates of planet Zebes are at war. The pirates have attacked a research vessel returning to the Federation after an exposition on the planet SR-388. Among the samples stolen were extremely powerful macro parasitic lifeforms the research team named “Metroids”.

The Space Pirates plan to mutate, replicate and ultimately unleash their bio-enhanced Metroids upon the Federation before conquering them. In a last ditch desperate effort, The Galactic Federation hires the galaxy’s most notorious bounty hunter, Samus Aran to single handedly eradicate all the space pirates and their stolen Metroids on planet the fortress planet Zebes, deep in the ruins of the Chozo Empire.

With the mission orders received, Aran heads for Zebes, not knowing the danger and mystery that lurks beneath the planet’s surface.

Why you should play it

In sharp contrast to nearly every other Nintendo franchise, Metroid is not a whimsical, child-friendly fairy tale with a princess to rescue and land to save. From the moment you boot the game until the final credits roll, Metroid offers a dark, broody world filled with vile creatures that must be utterly exterminated by the assassin in a cyborg space suit Samus Aran, whoever, or whatever that may be. See, back in the day, it wasn’t entirely clear if “Samus” was even a biological entity or some sort of cyborg. The fact that Samus was a woman was a closely guarded secret that only added the game’s mystique.

Metroid was unlike anything Nintendo had done before. To just look at Metroid you’ll see very familiar conventions. You run, jump and shoot like so many other action platformers.  Beneath the common concepts though, there’s much more to Metroid than simply shooting enemies and jumping on on platforms – Metroid was one of the first action games to put a great deal of emphasis on exploration.

There are many things that make Metroid unique. Chief among them is the massive open ended, seemingly non-linear world that you are thrust into without any sense of direction or hand-holding of any kind. You are completely isolated, alone on a massive planet without any guide. Metroid is a prime example of a game that just would not fly if it were released today rather than two decades ago. Everything you learn you discover yourself, and much of it defies common game design choices. For example, immediately when you start in Metroid, the correct path is to proceed is to the left in order t pick up game’s first power, the Maru-Mari. At the time, this was completely counter-intuitive to everything that other platformers such as Super Mario Bros. teach about game design.

From the offset, you’ve given your mission objective – find the Metroids and the bio-organism Mother Brain and kill them. The problem is at first, you’re so weak the cave dwelling insects pose a serious threat. Scattered throughout the world are power ups that once collected, permanently enhance your abilities. Some of these items are in plain sight, but others are well hidden. Among the many power ups hidden throughout Zebes are bombs, missiles, ice and wave beams, an armor upgrade and high jump boots, just to name a few.

You’ll also discover Energy tanks, which add 100 units of energy to your life reserve With so many power ups hidden throughout the game, the more you explore, searching for power ups the more you get out of the game. Once you find a good number of power ups, you might think Samus would become completely overpowered and thus render the game a cakewalk but in actuality, Metroid is a rather difficult game. Just getting to the bosses can be a huge challenge – surviving against them is another.

Though the visuals are sparse even for an NES game, Metroid is one of the few NES games that could be described as atmospheric, as the game successfully conveys each of the dark underground areas you explore as completely alien and hostile. You don’t fight against humanoid enemies, but rather strange cave dwelling creatures like inhabit the abyss of Zebes. While everything is simple and blocky, the game does manage to impress with some interesting effects. For example, once you get the ice beam you can freeze enemies dead in their tracks and even safely stand on them as if they were platforms. Frozen enemies turn a deep shade of blue letting you know at a moment’s glace which are frozen and which are not.

Another element that propels Metroid so high is it’s highly district, memorable music, particularly the titlescreen theme. When you see the blue title appear above the barren surface of the planet Zebes, you’re greeted by one of the moodiest, foreboding tunes out there. Metroid’s theme music is downright haunting. I legitimately got chills the first time I heard it. The rest of the tracks aren’t nearly as haunting, but each are memorable, catchy, and instantly recognizable – all the things you’d want in an NES soundtrack.

For all its many strengths, Metroid does have a few noticeable flaws that are hard to ignore. Much like Legacy of the Wizard, the game is a little TOO open-ended. Just like that game, you’re completely on your own when it comes to not only trying to figure out where to go next, but also how to even get there. There are segments that are force you to try to bomb every single block in search of a hidden passageway through a wall or a floor. This kind of level design makes the game needlessly obtuse.

Nevertheless, Metroid has all of the makings of a true classic. To play through Metroid is to experience a part of what forever will be the giant impact the NES had on gaming culture. It is thanks to this one game that dared think outside the box we would be treated to some of the best games ever made that closely emulate it such as Super Metroid, Castlevania Symphony of the Night and Cave Story, just to name a few. Not too shabby, Metroid. Not too shabby at all.

For readers who have never played Metroid before and may now want to give it a shot, I urge you not to just jump on the internet and look up a map – much like Legacy of the Wizard, this game is designed from the ground up for you to create your own map. Simply looking up a map on the internet is like skipping to the last few pages of a detective novel – it completely ruins the experience.

Fun fact

Originally released alongside its sister game Kid Icarus, Metroid was one of the first titles to appear on the Famicom Disk System attachment in Japan. The Disk version allowed the player to save their progress to the disk’s three save slots. It used the enhanced FM Synthesis audio of the Famicom Disk System hardware for certain tracks including the amazing titlescreen theme, weapon acquisition jingle and a few others.

If you’ve never heard the FDS Metroid’s title theme, I’ll toss it in here for your listening pleasure.

Metroid was one of the first Nintendo developed games to feature multiple endings. Each of Metroid’s endings were based on how quickly the game was completed. If you could manage to clear the entire game in under an hour, you would be treated to a bizarre scene where Samus would not only reveal she was a woman, but a woman wearing a skimpy Bikini under her Power Suit. Hey, I guess it gets hot in their or something? Obviously, this fact enticed a whole generation of young boys to try and beat the game as quickly as they could.

When it came time to release Metroid in the US, it was decided not to retain the save function to battery-backed SRAM even though the PCB board selected for the game had the capability. In fact, Metroid’s circuit board even has traces for a battery in the top left corner! It’s possible that Nintendo had planned on Metroid being a battery-backed game, but decided against it at the last minute. Instead of a built-in save function, the North American release ended up using an extensive password system.

In the process of creating the password system, Nintendo also implemented a new Samus sprite. With special passwords, US gamers would be able to play Samus not in her Chozo Power Suit, but in a skimpy skin-tight one piece bikini. This was not the case in the Japanese build, despite how pervy they usually are with stuff like that.

Although Metroid was very popular in North America, Europe and moderately successful in Japan, it wouldn’t be until several years after Metroid that the series would see a sequel, and even then, it was on the GameBoy, not the NES. Nevertheless, in 1992, SunSoft released a game called Hebereke in Japan, and localized it in Europe as Ufouria: The Saga. Ufouria copies much of Metroid’s gameplay, though at an accelerated pace across four playable characters. It’s not nearly as good as Metroid, but it is worth a look nevertheless.

In 2004, Metroid saw a rather incredible remake on the GameBoy Advance called Metroid: Zero Mission. Zero Mission took many ideas introduced in Super Metroid and fixed many of the problems with the original version. After completing Zero Mission, players are even treated to the full original NES version ported to the GBA! Zero Mission is one of the best remakes ever made in my view. Expect a full review in the near-ish future.

Finally, it is also worth mentioning that Metroid has a few truly excellent ROM-hacks. First there’s MDBtroid, from the Metroid Database. This hack improves Samus’s sprites and makes the font more readable. It also includes a completely revamped bikini Samus sprite, which just looks awesome.You can even pile on a mini auto-map to this hack!

The other noteworthy hack is called Metroid X, which completely revamps the entire map to present a completely new game. The sprites aren’t any different, but it tosses everything you know about Metroid‘s level layouts out the window, and forces you to experience the game fresh, like it’s 1987 all over again. What more can you ask for?

Original Japanese commercial for Metroid

Again, feel free to drop your comments and memories regarding Metroid below. Stay turned tomorrow for entry #4!  Remember to subscribe to get notice of the moment when I post updates!

#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.

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.

#3Super Mario Bros. 3

1990

Nintendo

Platformer

Price range: $8-15

Difficulty: 6

Bowser has returned to the Mushroom Kingdom and now with the help of his seven Koopaling children, he tries to conquer it again. He sends his Koopalings (Larry, Roy, Lemmy, Wendy, Iggy, Morton, and Ludwig) into seven parts of the Mushroom World to steal the Mushroom Kings’ magic wands, and with the wands, transform the Kings into various creatures. Princess Toadstool sent Mario and Luigi to go and stop the Koopalings and turn the kings back into their normal form. At the end of each world, Mario and Luigi fought one of the Koopalings, and after the match was over, the brothers took the wand from the Koopaling and turned the king back to normal. In addition to that, Bowser has kidnapped Princess Toadstool as well. It’s up to Mario and Luigi to get back the magic wands, defeat Bowser, and save the Princess all before the day is done.

Why you should play it

A lot of people would name Super Mario Bros. 3 as the best game on the NES and a strong contender for best game of all time. It will undoubtedly come as a shock to some that I’ve placed Mario 3 in the third overall position. Afterall, what could possibly be better than this illustrious gem? Well, you’ll just have to wait and find out.

Super Mario Bros. 3, in no uncertain terms, is a masterpiece and like Zelda, it’s timeless. It represents some of the best gaming on the face of the Earth and is an an absolutely timeless game that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of age or gender. I feel the best way to describe what makes Mario 3 grand is to break it down into a few core elements:

Refinement

Super Mario Bros. 3 wouldn’t exist without Super Mario Bros. lying the groundwork for it. Every element of the brilliant original game, from basic jumping to warp pipe secrets, returns in Mario 3 with more upgrades and refinements than I could possibly list. Just a few of them include enhanced dashing, the ability to jump higher after jumping on a foe, larger, expanded levels, the ability to scroll to the left, and brand new power-ups to compliment the original ones. Chief among the new power-ups is the Raccoon Leaf, which leads me to the next point.

Flight and Level Design

One of the key gameplay elements introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3 addressed something kids all over the world dream of – flying.While it admittingly looked pretty damn silly,  when Mario adorned the Raccoon Suit (or later, Tanooki Suit) he could dash to build up speed and take off into the air flying upward for short bursts. By doing so, Mario could fly above enemies and reach secret areas otherwise inaccessible. This concept changed everything about Mario’s level designs. Each area would now been to be designed both vertically as well as horizontally. Not every stage in the game really allowed for flight, but those that did helped shape Mario 3 into something truly special.

Power Ups

The original Super Mario Bros. included the Super Mushroom, Fireflower and Starman powerups. Like in nearly every other aspect, Mario 3 expands the item list by including the power ups from the original game alongside nine brand new ones: the Leaf, Tanooki Suit, Hammer Suit, Frog Suit, Music Box, P Wing, Cloud, Anchor, Magic Flute and Shoe. Each would serve a unique role to aid players. Another important new feature added for Super Mario Bros. 3 were the Toad Houses, which would grant Mario a random item for use before any stage of his choosing. Some suits, such as the Frog Suit of the Fireflower, aren’t ideal for every situation, so this system allows you to keep them in reserve until you need them, sort of like a predecessor to Mario World’s duel item system.

Unfortunately, some of the game’s best and most awesome powers are far too infrequent. You’ll get the Hammer Suit or the Kuribo’s Shoe only a handful of times throughout the entire game. Even more disappointing, you can’t complete multiple stages with the shoe – just like the awesome UFO power in Kirby’s Adventure, Kuribo’s Shoe is taken from Mario upon successfully finishing the stage he got it in. Even so, these power ups are awesome while they last.

Verity

Unlike the four basic area types of the original Super Mario 1, Mario 3 really mixes things up with grassy fields, deserts, underground caverns, underwater, snow and ice covered mountains and many others. It wasn’t anything unique to Mario 3 as many other games were doing similar tricks by 1988, but each of the themed worlds really helped make each new area unique and interesting. Even stages within the same theme would be very different from one to the next, as some would be designed for ideal use of the game’s flight mechanics while others would be best suited for running on foot, and others still would be auto-scrolling and require careful timed jumps. They say variety is the spice of life, and that concept is alive and kicking in Mario 3.

Visuals & Audio

Of all the major improvements from Mario 1, the visual design of Mario 3 is the most obvious enhancement. Mario 3 has easily some of the best spritework to appear on the NES. Absolutely everything has a cartoon quality to it from the common enemies to each of the background tiles. The game pushes the color pallet in interesting ways to always produce contrasting colors so everything is easily recognizable and as a result, screenshots pop out at you like few others do. While yes, there are a few technically superior looking games on the NES and Famicom, Mario 3 is one of the most artistically beautiful games of all time, and I truly believe it will still look appealing in another twenty years.

The soundtrack for Mario 3 is among Koji Kondo’s best works. Throughout the entire game, there is really only two overworld stage themes, a single underwater, underground and castle theme, but given how many other little jingles there are such as battling against bosses or on the map screens of each world, Mario 3 is a true treat for the ears. Every single one of the tracks in Mario 3 are incredibly catchy and iconic. You only need listen to the music for a few minutes to understand that Mario 3 was something special on the audio front as well.

With such great music, it’s only natural that there were many remixes made over the years. This megamix is one of my personal favorites.

Replay Value and Challenge

On top of everything else, Super Mario Bros. 3 is also a timeless game with a near infinite replay value. I couldn’t begin to count the number of times I’ve played Mario 3 from start to finish only to do it again in a few weeks. It’s a fairly lengthy game compared to many other NES platformers, and it also achieves the perfect difficulty balance in my mind – It isn’t so easy that you’ll breeze right through it, isn’t so far that you’ll give up in frustration, and isn’t so predictable that most experienced players will find absolutely no challenge it in over time. Absolutely anyone can find something to enjoy about this incredible platformer, no matter if you are a seasoned pro or have never played it before.

Fun fact

In 1989, Nintendo’s popularity had reached the point where Mario eclipsed Disney’s Micky Mouse as the most popular cartoon character in the world. Riding so high above the competition, it only made sense that a movie about this incredible phenomenon would be produced, and that winter, kids all over North America went to see what is either the worst or best gaming movie of all time, The Wizard. Although it was slammed hard by critics and an absolute a commercial failure, its hard not to find cheesy, camp value in this cult classic gaming film that was so much a part of the NES era.

The film was about three young kids who travel across the country competing in a national videogame tournament that very likely inspired the creation of the Nintendo World Championships 1990. Heavily sponsored by Nintendo, the movie was crammed with product placements including the infamous Power Glove. What does any of this have to do with Mario 3 you ask? In the film, the contestants who made it into the finals had to compete in a brand new game they had never before seen, and wasn’t out to the public.

That game was Super Mario Bros. 3. It is impossible to understate how exciting this was and how much hype was generated by the game’s inclusion in the film. Most games of that era were lucky to get a TV spot and a few magazine advertisements. Mario 3 really had the film structured around it. There were kids that would go to see The Wizard solely because of Mario 3. When Mario 3 was finally released in North America, it would go on to sell over 18 million copies worldwide, and as of 2011, Super Mario Bros. 3 remains the highest-grossing non-bundled videogame of all time, having grossed $1.7 billion, adjusted for inflation.

In 1990, a new cartoon series following the success of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show was launched called The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3. Like it’s predecessor, most of the scripts written for the show had very little to do with the game – only the characters seem to be the same. Nevertheless, I have many fond memories watching this show as a kid. It’s campy and cheesy of course, but there’s just something fun about it.

Over the years, Super Mario Bros. 3 has been remade twice: the first time was Super Mario All-Stars for the Super NES and again on the GameBoy Advance in Super Mario Advance 4. Both versions feature standard visual enchantments and a few bug fixes, as well as battery backed saving, something the NES/Famicom version lacked.

The recent Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS features the return of the Tanooki Suit to Mario games since its appearance in Mario 3. In 3D Land, there are actually two Tanooki suits – the standard version and the silver one, which allows Mario to turn into a statue as he could in Mario 3.

Mario 3 was heavily promoted and is perhaps the most famous game of all time, spanning a movie, cartoon show, remakes, boardgames, t-shirts, toys stuffed animals and much more. Even today it continues to sell well as one of the most downloaded games for the Wii Virtual Console.

Finally, I want to leave you off with the iconic, memorable, and completely ridiculous Mario 3 commercial that us kids were exposed to in the early 90s so we’d all run to our parents and beg for Mario 3. Enjoy.

Mario 3 North American commercial.

#2Megaman 2

1989

Capcom

Platformer

Price range: $10-15

Difficulty: 5

Region: All

In the year of 200X, Dr. Light created a super robot named Megaman. Megaman defended peace and defeated the evil Dr. Wily, whom had betrayed Dr. Light, stole six of his robots and tried to take over the world. However, after his defeat, Dr. Wily created eight new robots of his own to counter Megaman, sent them across the globe with orders to destroy Megaman.

While perhaps not quite as good as the plot of the first title, Megaman 2’s prologue is still one of the most memorable and enjoyable cutscenes in all videogame history. It’s a simple story of revenge. Wily’s robots are out to eradicate mankind. What’s a super robot of justice to do? Suit up, prepare to fight, and blast everything that comes your way. Protector of justice vs evil robots bent on killing? This means war.

Why you should play it

For the past two decades, the iconic iron blue-clad hero has appeared on every major console in one form or another and there have as many as six spin-off series. Contradictorily to most successful game franchises, the roaring success of Megaman can be traced back to not the first game, but the second. Many retro gamers still consider Megaman 2 to be the best game in the entire series, even to this day. What’s so special about Megaman 2 that makes it better than the other NES Megaman games and even Super Mario Bros. 3?

Polish.

Well, everything, really. Megaman 2 is a brilliantly designed game in nearly every aspect. It takes a preexisting good concept and refines it into perfection. As with Super Mario Bros. 3, the best way to describe what makes Megaman 2 tick is to break it down into some core concepts:

Refinement

At first glace, Megaman 2 appears to look no different than the first game, but it’s vastly superior in a whole range of ways. Backgrounds are no longer solid colors are are instead lively with well animated moving objects like clouds, gears or flashing lights.  Enemy designs are far more charming in a whimsical, cartoony way that would become the series standard for future games and each of the eight robot masters are incredibly well thought out and memorable. The game is longer with more stages populated by a wider variety of enemies. Three support items were included as well as health restoring E-cans, a password system, and even an option to select the difficulty for new players.

Powers & Abilities

The whole idea behind Megaman is the bosses work on sort of rock-paper-scissors system where each has a strength and weakness to one of the others. When you defeat one boss, you then carefully think about how that weapon you gained can be used, and then move onto another boss and see if that weapon is their weakness. Although this concept was introduced in the first title, it was Megaman 2 that really expanded on this concept into something truly special.

The weapons gained from the bosses are among the coolest and most useful weapons in gaming history, each with a distinct purpose. The bubble lead travels along floors, Quick Boomerangs travel in zig-zag patterns before returning, Crash Bombs attach to walls and detonate a large explosion, and then there’s the extremely useful Metal Blades. The Metal Blades – metallic gears sharpened to resemble saw blades – can be hurled at enemies at great velocity in any direction. They can often take out enemies in a single hit, and can be fired a total of 128 times. They are easily the most powerful weapon in the game. There could even be an argument made that they’re overpowerd and break the game, but since you aren’t required to ever use them, their use is a situational choice left up to the player.

Play Control

A true go-to example for excellent play control, everything about Megmaan 2’s control scheme is completely flawless, tight, and well executed. You have perfect control over your jumps and movement in the air. The + pad moves Megaman seamlessly in a way that reflects how well polished the game is as a whole. Megaman may only be able to shoot horizontally, but firing the Megabuster never gets old.

Variety & Level Design

 

Megaman 2 has some of the most memorable stages in gaming history.

The depths of the ocean floor in Bubbleman’s stage offer giant angler fish that spawn robot squid. Woodman’s stage is filled with robotic fire-breathing dogs, menacing rabbits, swooping bats, dive bombing birds mechanical monkeys and nearly invincible robo-chickens. Metalman’s stage is full of conveyor belts, chained spikes and all manner of metal hazards to avoid.

Quickman’s stage is full of laser beams that force constant movement to avoid, but the Flash Stopper can freeze them in place long enough for you to slip by. Airman’s stage is high in the sky, with some of the best looking clouds in any eight-bit game. There’s so much to see that once you finally do see it all, you’ll want to see it again and again.

Visuals

Although most who play NES games don’t do so for their visuals, Megaman 2 manages to impress with well animated, colorful cartoony sprites, tons of background details and enormous screen-filling bosses that are vibrantly colorful despite the limited color pallet available.There is never a dull moment visually in Megaman 2.

Audio

Megaman 2 is quite arguably the crowning achievement of sound design on the NES/Famicom. I’m going to go out on a limb and say Megaman 2 has the best soundtrack of any game produced for Nintendo’s 8-bit console. Every song in the game is memorable, catchy, distinctive, and downright fun to listen to. This is the NES at it’s best, and one of the prime reasons chiptune music is so popular today.

The depths of the ocean in Bubbleman’s stage leave the player with a feeling of loneliness and purity. The fast paced drums of Woodman’s stage give the impression that the forest is alive with robots and what you’re hearing is actually a war march against Megaman. Quickman’s stage is a secret tower where sounds of instruments going off in the background meld together to create a unique and otherworldly sound.

The soundtrack is so good in fact, that I strongly urge you to check out Nico Nico Douga user MAX VEGETABLE’s outstanding Rockman 2 Megamix.

The best track of the game is hands down Dr. Wily’s castle music. It is a legendary chiptune that never gets old. Hundreds of videogame cover bands worldwide devote segments to the soundtrack of this game. One in particular are called The Megas. They go so far as to devote their entire existence to the Rockman 2 soundtrack, performing lyrical covers of the songs found in this game. It’s just beyond awesome.

Replay Value and Challenge

As all the elements come together in a perfect blend of retro gaming awesomeness, Megaman 2 is unprecedentedly replayable. Should you play through it using only the Megabuster whenever possible, or try a Metal Blade free run? Are you a seasoned player ready for the challenge of the original Japanese difficulty? The more you play Megaman 2, the more you’ll want to play Megaman 2.

Megaman 2 is one of the most remarkably well crafted, ageless games ever made, and is one of the the best reasons to own an NES, even today. Sure, the game is on pretty much everything, but this is one game you should pull that NES out from the closet and hook up to enjoy to this day. From the way it outclasses the first game to the beautiful, almost emotional epilogue, Megaman 2 is and will very likely always be the best Megaman game ever made. Get equipped.

Fun fact

As crazy as it is to think about, Megaman 2 almost never happened. Despite all Capcom’s efforts, Rockman 1 was only moderately popular in Japan, and in the US it was hampered my the epitome of terrible boxart and needed to be spread by word of mouth alone. Megaman 1 didn’t even get much coverage from gaming magazines at the time.

As a result, Capcom had its design teams work on new projects, abandoning the idea of a sequel. However, Keiji Inafune and his team were so passionate about creating a sequel, they worked on the development of Rockman 2 as a side project. In fact, Rockman 2 was a true labour of love that the team worked on it quite literally in their off hours. The total development cost for Megaman 2? $0. When the finished project was presented to the powers at Capcom, the sequel was greenlit, and the rest is history.

When Megaman 2 hit the western world, once again, the boxart was laughably bad. Megaman resembles a human police officer more than he does a robot. Ah well. At least he’s blue this time. Strangely, the European cover, which was so accurate for the first title, now shows Megaman as a shiny silver tin man out of a 30′s science fiction flick. The Japanese cover looks pretty good, but it was greatly improved in the 1999 Rockman Complete work remake.

On a personal note, I have fond memories of getting Megaman 2 as a young child. While this isn’t me, this video perfectly captures the general excitement of getting Megaman 2 for the first time. Special thanks to ShinobiMan for the permission to use his video here. More the point, special thanks to ShinobiMan’s father for filming this. An entire generation of kids now well into their adulthood thank you.

In an interview with Udon Entertainment, Keiji Inafune revealed Megaman 2 was developed in a mere three months.  He has also gone on record naming Megaman 2 has favorite overall project he’s ever done, and his most proud creation.

Among the more interesting ROM hacks for Megaman 2 out there is Rockman 2 Endless, a romp through classic Megaman 2 using the same “endless” mode established in Megaman 9 and continued in Megaman 10. The game is an endurance mode that challenges the player to see how long they can survive in a Megaman game given only one life and no energy tanks. Guide Megaman through over 40 random areas in a never ending assault on Wily’s robots. Every thirty screens you clear presents you with a random boss ranging from Airman or Flashman to even the good Dr. himself. You’ll start off armed with every weapon in the game, so go out there and trash some metal! For more ROM hack recommendations, check out my Top 25 Powerpak Killer Apps List.

Rockman 2 Japanese Commercial

#1Action 52

1991

Active Enterprises

Multiple Genres

Price range: $80-120

Difficulty: 5

Region: North America Only

Why you should play it

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.]

Fun Fact

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 CheetahmenCheetahmen 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!

What’s that? I’m still not on the real number #1? I guess you’re right. Okay. No more fooling around. 

The REAL number one NES/Famicom game to place all your money on is…

The Real #1Gimmick!

1992

Sunsoft

Platformer

Price range: $250+

Difficulty: 8

Region: Japan Only (basically)

 

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.

Why you should play it

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.

Fun fact

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!

31 Responses to “Top 100 NES/Famicom Games List – All in One!”

  1. StarDust Says:

    Wow, this is awesome thanks. You have a really great list of games, and covered a lot of games that many people have never heard of. Now all I have to do is hit F3 in Firefox and find it any game here on the page, instead of doing a Google search or referring to your index image. 😀

  2. stalepie Says:

    Excellent, excellent! Worth saving as an .mht in Internet Explorer 🙂 (If only that also saved the YouTube videos…)

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      You are correct, but my point wasn’t that Zelda II came before them, it was just to illustrate that Zelda II wasn’t an isolated example of an RPG platformer on the NES.

  3. eightbit.gg Says:

    You will never make everyone happy with the order in which games were selected but with Princess Tomato and things on here I would have at least liked to see Solar Jetman (difficult, unique, and one of many games so great like Power Blade to even consider to port to Arcade) and Ultima: Exodus (insired RPGs and insanely difficult without a guide).

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      Yes, it’s ultimately just a matter of opinion. As many people have mentioned, I didn’t include any of the Dragon Quest/Warrior titles either. How can that be? It’s simple – I really can’t stand the incredibly slow pacing of those Famicom originals, and they’ve been remade so many times by this point that they’ll show up on future best 100 games for other systems. The whole idea of this list is the 100 games that have stood the test of time and should still be played and enjoyed today. For me at least, Solar Jetman and the NES Ultima ports fail in that regard.

      • Sumiyoshi Says:

        I really enjoyed reading through your list, but I’m going to have to disagree, and not just on an opinion level (i.e. what game should be at which number, etc). I DO agree with most of what you wrote about Final Fantasy, especially 3. And preferring Final Fantasy over Dragon Quest is a perfectly valid opinion. However, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when you give so much praise for FF and completely fail to mention what the Dragon Quest series did for the JRPG genre, -especially- given how in-depth you are elsewhere in the Top 100 list.

        First, you compared Final Fantasy 1 to Dragon Quest 1, which… isn’t much of a comparison at all, since Dragon Quest 1 is so much older and a lot more primitive. What you probably should have compared FF1 to was Dragon Quest III, which… came out a scant TWO MONTHS after FF1 (FF1: 12/1987, DQ3: 2/1988).

        Everything- and I mean, EVERYTHING- you praised as innovative and “dynamically adaptable” about FF1’s battle systems applies across the board to DQ3: the ability to command multiple characters in battle, the fight/magic/item/run system (which was old hat by FF1), strategic character class choice, and so on and so forth.

        Heck, DQ3 went far beyond that; DQ3 pioneered the job change system that helped shape the FF series further down the line. It also had a day-night cycle, the ability to swap characters in and out of your party (and make MORE than four), and flight travel, and I’m very certain that DQ3’s world is bigger than FF1’s. That none of this warranted any mention at all is mind-boggling to me, especially given how much you praised FF1 (which, believe you me, doesn’t beat DQ3 in terms of the need to grind). So I’m confused as to why Final Fantasy 1 would get such a glowing review, when Dragon Quest 3 clearly had more advanced and innovative ideas.

        The second point is a minor point, but I think it must be said- you state that “they’ve been remade so many times by this point that they’ll show up on future best 100 games for other systems,” and that “the whole idea of this list is the 100 games that have stood the test of time and should still be played and enjoyed today.” The early Final Fantasy games have probably been remade just as many times as the early Dragon Quest games (ESPECIALLY FF1, which got a Wonderswan Color port, a GBA port, a PSX port, a PSP port, an iOS port…). And if a game’s good enough to be remade (ESPECIALLY games dating back from the NES/Famicom days), doesn’t that mean that it’s stood the test of time and that people still enjoy it today?

        Anyway- is the Dragon Quest series perfect? Far from it. Is it BETTER than the Final Fantasy series or vice versa? That’s up to personal opinion. But you shouldn’t deny- and CAN’T deny- that the Dragon Quest series has had a huge impact on JRPGs, and it’s highly regarded in Japan as basically the definitive JRPG series (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_Quest#Cultural_impact). And again, it’s not that X game hasn’t scored above Y number, but it’s the COMPLETE omission of the series from this list (or any mention of what it’s done for the genre) that bugs me.

      • satoshimatrix Says:

        Bravo on the most insightful comment I’ve ever received.

        Again, this list is my opinion on the best overall 100 games that still hold up today. It isn’t a matter of including the most historically important titles that established key franchises or would influence future gaming trends. If Nintendo had’ve never made another Mario game, it still would be that Super Mario Bros. 3 is one of the best games on the NES.

        Please don’t assume for one second that just because none of the four Dragon Quest titles made the top 100 NES/Famicom games list means that I don’t like them. Far from it! I think that Dragon Warrior 3 and 4 in particular are incredible games that are well worth playing for RPG fans. The first four Dragon Quest titles have been remade and rereleased on numerous other platforms with tweaks and improvements that far outshine their Famicom roots. Given the entire library as a whole, I just felt that all four titles were honorable mentions rather than absolute requirements for the list.

        I hope you look forward to more of Top 100 lists in the future. I’m planning on doing such lists as this NES one for all consoles I can talk length enough to showcase – the SNES, GameBoy, GameBoy Advance and Original Xbox most of all. Maybe in some Sega content. Who knows?

  4. Insane list satoshimatrix! Lots of NES games that were unknown for me, can’t wait to try these out. I hope that the top lists for SNES and Genesis are also coming up, your way of writing is really captivating.

    Many thanks for this.

  5. Amazing list, i guess it was difficult for you to make it in such a way, it’s great work, really.

  6. Very nice list and awesome job, can’t imagine the ammount of time it took to make this article, kudos.
    I would only change 1 thing, I would have added all the covers also, since I’m a sucker for covers, but that’s just me.
    Congrats and keep up the good work, mate.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      I had thought of doing that before I even started, but finding high res, non watermarked covers for each game would prove nearly impossible, especially for the Famicom games and pirates. Instead, I included high res versions of each game’s in-game titlescreen.

      I’m glad you like my top 100 NES/Famicom game list. Check out my other posts as well. I’m currently working on a top 100 GameBoy/GameBoy Color list in this same format.

  7. Just had to let you know that I’m a lifelong NES fan, and this is the top 100 list I’ve been looking for. It covers a broad spectrum of what the system has to offer, and gave me a ton of suggestions. Thank you!

  8. Just wish to say your article is as astounding. The clearness in your publish is just great and that i can assume you are a professional in this subject. Well together with your permission allow me to grab your feed to keep updated with forthcoming post. Thank you 1,000,000 and please carry on the rewarding work.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      Thank you so much. Comments like this are everything to me. I honestly only strive to do the kind of work that I, myself would want to read. Sometimes that doesn’t jell with people and I get comments like “oh your work sucks, I would have totally put ______ as #1 b/c I played it when I was 5 LOL”.

      I never say that my opinion is absolute – like anything you could read, these are just my opinions for what games are the best of the best. I try to make the work interesting and visual, using all my own screenshots.

      If you like my work, then yeah, feel free to subscribe. I’m slowing currently working on another top 100 list in this style for the GameBoy and GameBoy Color. Feel free to check out that list too. Eventually I’ll be covering many other systems like the Master System, SNES, GBA, Xbox, you name it.

  9. schtolteheim Says:

    What about “Solomon’s Key 2″(Fire ‘n Ice)? That is a fantastic thinking man’s game.
    Same goes for the Eggerland games which deserve at least one spot, “Adventures of Lolo 3” being the most refined one.
    These two are some of the best logic games for the NES. Their breed of games seems under-represented here, yet not in the Game Boy ranking.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      Yeah, you’re right. Both games are good, but neither are top 100 material in my view. I own all three Lolo games (why oh why was Lolo 2 is hard to track down?!) and I enjoy them very much. If I were to re-do this list there would be some slight changes now, but as it stands, I’m overall happy with my top 100 NES/Famicom list. next is the GB.

  10. northamericabase.com Says:

    I’m gone to say to my little brother, that he should also pay a quick visit this blog on regular basis to get updated from newest news update.

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      Thanks! Spread thr word to everyone you know who might be interested! Facebook, twitter, email, whatever. The more people know, the more feedback I can get to improve future articles. This is only the beginning.

  11. Great list, but I’m surprised by the absence of but one game: Solstice, a brilliant isometric title I just know you meant to include. 😉

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      Solstice is one of those games that would fall into the category of “games that kind of suck but but HOLY SHIT that titlescreen track”

      Other examples on the NES include:

      Robocop 3
      Skate or Die 2

      Seriously, look up on youtube. Amazing music for bad games.

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  13. Very energetic blog, I loved that bit. Will there be a part
    2?

  14. I’ve read a few good stuff here. Certainly value bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how much effort you put to create any such fantastic informative website.

  15. Sweet blog! I found it while surfing around on
    Yahoo News. Do you have any tips on how to get listed in Yahoo News?
    I’ve been trying for a while but I never seem to get there! Many thanks

    • satoshimatrix Says:

      What, really? Yahoo….news? Why would my work show up there? lol

      Can you send me a link? I’d like to see this for myself.

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