Presented here for you are the top 50 Nintendo Entertainment System games according to Markham Asylum, in random order. Each entry includes a soundtrack video, release date, genre information, screenshots, and info on what made the game worthwhile. Each post will include 10 games. A sixth post will include an index of all 50 games in alphabetical order and a bonus section with Honorable Mentions.
Without further ado…
Release Date: 1983
Genre: Vehicle Combat
Spy Hunter was simple but addictive. Drive north, choose between branching paths, machine-gun or push enemy cars off the roads, and receive limited-use smoke screens, oil slicks, and missiles by driving into semis. Play long enough and you could even trade in that car for a boat, then back again.
From the era of play value being extended by means of an endless game, you could play Spy Hunter for hours with a Game Genie granting infinite lives and still not finish it, since you looped back to the beginning after a while. Without a cheat, though, it was still pretty fun to see how far you could get with only 3 lives.
Release Date: 1989
Double Dragon, released in 1988, was one of the earliest side-scrolling, punch-and-kick-the-shit-out-of-bad-guys games. Unfortunately, the NES version was only for one player.
When Double Dragon II was released a year later, co-op mode was finally added. At a time when most home-console multiplayer experiences were either competitive or “my turn, your turn”, it was great to be able to beat the hell out of enemies with a friend.
Release Date: 1986
Gauntlet II was another of the great co-op games in the late 80s. Though your health meter was constantly dropping, causing you to have to hear “Red Valkyrie needs food… badly” or “Green Wizard is about to die” on a regular basis, the fun of exploration and of hunting for treasure and secret exits kept you going.
They even added an “it” feature to Gauntlet II that made one player a magnet for monsters, allowing for some strategy. If that player happened to be an Elf, though, good luck focusing on playing while you were busy laughing at the “Yowel!” sound the Elf made every time he got damaged.
(Note: Screenshots are from the arcade version.)
Release Date: 1988
Genres: Platforming, Shooting
This Metroidesque title is a fan favorite and one of the best offerings from the NES. If you’ve never played it, check out my nostalgic review.
If you have played it, enough said.
Release Date: September 1990
When some of Capcom’s key people from the Mega Man series got a hold of the hit cartoon DuckTales, great things happened. A platformer was born that, like Mega Man, had colorful visuals, non-linear gameplay, and catchy music.
Scrooge McDuck, though old, is spry enough to jump, swing his cane like a golf club, and pogo around on the cane. Not very realistic, but combined with great level design, these mechanics made for a really fun game.
Release Date: October 1990
Dr. Mario improved on the Tetris formula. Instead of just completing horizontal lines, the doctor had you matching four or more horizontally or vertically. Viruses, each taking up one square in the play area, came in yellow, red, or blue. Pills dropped from the top of the screen, each made up a random combination of two of the three virus colors. Matching any combination of viruses and pill segments of the same color would cause the connected viruses and pill parts to disappear.
Dr. Mario also included a versus mode in which players could drop random pill pieces on each other by clearing out viruses.
Release Date: June 1990
Genres: Puzzle, Platforming
First off, Solstice could practically make this list from its soundtrack alone, especially the title music. Composer Tim Follin milked every ounce of auditory awesomeness that he could from the NES’s digital-music teat.
Solstice also boasted fun and challenging gameplay. The player controlled Shadax, wandering from room to room collecting keys and staff parts while avoiding enemies. Platforms rose up and down, conveyors complicated movement, and spikes awaited for missed jumps. Potions allowed you to temporarily stop all enemies in their tracks, become invincible, destroy all moving objects, or reveal hidden blocks.
Despite these qualities, Solstice was held back from becoming one of the super-great games by its difficulty. The perspective made jumping awkward since Shadax had no shadow, potions were not explained and were rarely replenished, and limited lives coupled with frequent death made for restarting the game over and over.
Release Date: January 1990
Genres: Puzzle, Platforming
A Boy and His Blob was one of those games that players loved and hated at the same time. The idea of feeding jellybeans to your pet blob to turn him into a ladder, bridge, trampoline, hole, etc. is very original and exciting. However, when you couple that with limited jellybeans and puzzles that sometimes had solutions that felt more gimmicky than logical, the result was a mixed bag (no jellybean pun intended).
Despite the difficulty, A Boy and His Blob was fun and rewarding. It was a great game for a small group of people to take turns playing and offering ideas.
Release Date: July 1987
Genres: Platforming, Adventure
Considered the sister game of Metroid, as both were developed by Nintendo at the same time and shared a producer, Kid Icarus would end up the less-successful sibling. However, there’s plenty of room in Metroid’s shadow.
Kid Icarus combined elements of Mario, Zelda, and Metroid: Pit could jump like Mario, enhance his abilities like Link, and shoot like Samus. Plus, it was one of the first games to use a password system for saving progress, something that would have been great in other long games like Blaster Master and Super Mario Bros. 3.
Release Date: 1986
Genres: Platforming, Beat-‘em-up
Rampage was great for playing with a friend. You could jump around, climb buildings, and eat fruit, chicken, and people, plus punch buildings, tanks, and each other. Rampage let you control giant monsters that were bent on destroying the U.S., one city at a time.
This was a game that was almost as fun on the NES as it was in the arcade. Though the giant werewolf Ralph didn’t make the cut in the console port, the huge gorilla George and the monstrous lizard Lizzy were ready to help you demolish everything in sight. For a game that was only about destruction, Rampage was fun for hours on end.
What else made the list?
Stay tuned for additional installments of my list of Top 50 NES Games. Your own favorites just might make an appearance.
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About the Author
|Markham Asylum is a founding member of Delta Attack. His tier-1 favorite genres are role-playing, puzzle, and strategy. His tier-2 are adventure, shooter, and platformer. He strives to provide spoiler-free postings whenever possible.
Markham Asylum has written 399 posts on Delta Attack.