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.
On to Part 3…
Release Date: July 1990
Though Dragon Warrior set the bar pretty high in the RPG world, Final Fantasy arrived a year later and watched as Dragon Warrior quickly dwindled in its rear-view mirror.
Final Fantasy started the player off by letting them choose a custom party of four. Each character could be one of six classes: Fighter, Thief, Black Belt, White Mage, Black Mage, or Red Mage. With no info by which to judge the merits of the classes, players were bound to restart the game or play through it a second time. Final Fantasy was so good, though, that most players didn’t mind.
Final Fantasy had a classic story of good and evil. Though that story and the mechanisms by which it was told are simple by today’s standards, it was rather impressive at the time. It also contained a major theme related to the four elements of nature – earth, fire, water, and air – which was revisited in other games in the series.
Combat was frequent and put your party-building skills to the test. The only downside was the dreaded “Ineffective,” which occurred when you had two characters attack the same enemy and the first character defeated that enemy, whereupon the second character would swing at empty air instead of targeting another enemy. You learned to adapt, though.
Early leveling was necessary for survival and to earn enough gold to purchase better equipment and spells. As you went through the game, level grinding remained necessary from time to time. By today’s standards it would be unacceptable to many gamers, but at the time it was the most advanced RPG available and most fans of the genre took it in stride.
Final Fantasy has spawned dozens of games bearing the same name, including stand-alone main-series entries with stories unrelated to prior main-series entries; sequels or prequels; spin-offs; and two massively-multiplayer online games. Though some fans begrudge the character androgyny that the series began adopting with Final Fantasy 7, most are willing to look past that and still remain fans of the franchise in general.
In the realm of the traditional Japanese role-playing games, Final Fantasy has been king of the hill since its debut on the NES in 1987. Chances are good that it will remain on its lofty throne until Square Enix decides to retire it, if that ever happens.
Release Date: 1990
Genres: Strategy, Puzzle
Rampart was pretty simple: Build a castle, place cannons inside, and shoot at enemy ships. However, the ships shot back at you, and they could destroy segments of your castle walls, or even your cannons if they got hit enough times. With the destruction mechanic in place, Rampart alternated between firing your cannons and rebuilding your castle in a Tetris-style mode.
Rampart was good single-player, but it also provided a fun head-to-head mode in which the ships were removed and both players fired at each other, targeting castles and cannons.
Release Date: 1992
Genre: Platforming, Puzzle
Before Prince of Persia went 3D and long before it became a movie, it was a platformer with an original look and feel. You had to navigate the would-be prince through trap-filled rooms from Jaffar’s dungeons all the way up to the top of the palace. The tiles that made up the floors and hanging paths could fall or trigger doors to open or close, potions increased/replenished health or helped you to fall slowly, and enemies waited to sword-duel with you. To top it off, you only had 60 minutes to beat the game, requiring mastery and repeated playthroughs of the early levels.
Prince of Persia was a rewarding experience for players with patience and precision.
Release Dates: 1986, 1988, 1990
The original Super Mario Bros. cemented the platformer as one of the main genres of video games and kicked-started the success of the NES at light speed. The game has sold over 40 million copies worldwide and was the top-selling game of all time until Wii Sports finally beat it in 2009. That’s a hell of a record for a game that was essentially running, jumping, swimming, dodging, squashing, fireballing, invicibilitying, chimneying, warping, and minus-worlding.
Super Mario Bros. 2 came out two years later, though it was not really a Mario game. Since Nintendo assumed that the Japanese Mario 2 would be too difficult for most casual gamers, they took a game called Doki Doki Panic, replaced the four playable characters with Mario, Luigi, Princess, and Toad, and released it outside of Japan as Mario 2. Though definitely the odd-one-out in the series, Mario 2’s health meter, lack of a time-limit, exploration-based levels, and strange enemies still make it a refreshing change from the other Mario games to this day.
Super Mario Bros. 3 was released after another two years had passed. Fans of the series nearly died of dehydration due to shitting themselves over the awesomeness of the game. Some improvements over Mario 1 included new enemies, a leaf that made Mario a flying raccoon, suits (Frog, Tanooki, and Hammer), the rare Kuribo’s shoe, warp whistles, and mini-games that rewarded the player(s) with overworld-usable power-ups, coins, or free lives. The only thing wrong was the lack of any sort of save system, resulting in millions of Nintendos being left on while gamers slept or went to work or school.
Like Samus, Mario and friends deserve their place in the spotlight. Mario games will surely be made as long as Nintendo is still in business.
Release Date: October 1992
Genre: Platforming, Adventure
Gargoyle’s Quest was a Game Boy title about a gargoyle demon named Firebrand, who first appeared as an enemy in Ghosts ‘n Goblins. Gargoyle’s Quest II was a prequel and told the story of how Firebrand came to be a warrior in the Ghoul Realm. Both games had strong gothic themes.
Gameplay in both games consisted of traversing a top-down overworld that lead to various side-scrolling dungeons. In the dungeons, Firebrand could run, jump, spit fireballs, and hover for a duration that increased throughout the game. The hover mechanic made for unique gameplay compared to other platformers.
Release Date: September 1990
Like DuckTales, Capcom hit another home run with Little Nemo. Nemo ran around in his pajamas, fed candy to certain animals (not recommended at the zoo), and rode those animals around after they became docile (also not recommended at the zoo). It probably sounds like an easy, cutesy game, and the visuals back up that thought, but the gameplay leaned more on the difficult side.
The friendly animals in Little Nemo were far outnumbered by the hostile ones. If Nemo encountered them alone, all he could do was stun them for a moment by throwing candy and then maneuver around them. Even some animals that Nemo could ride/wear did not have a means to attack, meaning that you had to have great dodging skills.
The game had a strong aspect of exploration, requiring you to retrieve keys in each level to unlock the door at the end. Figuring out where to use each animal companion while avoiding damage made the game tough but rewarding.
Release Dates: 1986, 1989
Genre: Overhead Shooting
Ikari Warriors wasn’t the first game or series to be placed in a Vietnam War setting or to involve a screen that scrolled upward, but it was original in letting the co-op players shoot in eight directions and use tanks. The players could lock-in a direction for shooting by holding down the attack button and tanks could be used until they ran out of fuel or took too much damage.
Ikari Warriors II: Victory Road removed the tanks but introduced shops where you could buy better weapons and armor. Ikari Warriors III: The Rescue focused more on hand-to-hand combat.
Though each game in the series had different play mechanics, each was a lot of fun, especially if you had a friend available for co-op.
Release Dates: 1993
Genre: Maze, Action
Few other games this simple have been so successful: run around a maze, eat pellets, and avoid ghost or eat them with special items. Ms. Pac-Man mixed up the formula by having multiple mazes, two sets of warp tunnels, and ghosts with different movement patterns.
Both games became arcade megahits and drew many competitive gamers. Their NES counterparts were just as fun and addictive.
Release Dates: May 1987, December 1988, September 1990
Genre: Platforming, Adventure (Castlevania II)
Castlevania introduced Simon Belmont, a vampire-killing warrior with a holy whip. Simon was out to defeat Count Dracula, but to reach him, Simon had to fight various famous monsters such as mummies, Medusa, and Frankenstein, plus lesser evils like bats, animated skeletons, and fishmen. In addition to his heirloom whip, Simon employed axes, knives, stopwatches, crosses (boomerangs), and holy water.
Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest found our hero searching for Dracula’s bodyparts. Having had a curse placed upon him, Simon could only undo it by resurrecting Dracula and slaying him once more. This time Simon wandered through non-linear towns, forests, marshes, caves, and mansions. He was able to purchase better weapons from villagers and could only access certain areas of the game once particular items were obtained. This mechanic of areas being initially closed-off was reminiscent of Metroid and would later be employed in Symphony of the Night on the PlayStation and many other entries in the series.
Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse took place 100 years before the original and told the story of Simon’s ancestor, Trevor. Using the same holy whip that was eventually passed down to Simon, Trevor hunted Dracula in a linear style that was more similar to the first Castlevania than the second. However, some choices were available concerning the path to Dracula’s castle. Also, depending on the routes chosen, Trevor could meet up with three different spirit helpers – a pirate, a wizard, and Dracula’s son Alucard – with whom he could align himself one at a time. Trevor could switch to his current spirit helper or back again on the fly, making use of their special abilities to more easily traverse the gothic landscape and fight its nightmarish denizens.
Release Date: October 1987
Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! was unique amongst early sports games. Unlike real boxing, you couldn’t move your character, Little Mac, around the ring; you could only dodge, block, and punch high or low. To make up for that, the game had opponents that were as varied in moves as they were in appearance.
The game essentially boiled down to pattern recognition. Most enemies had such a good defense that going all-out would result in little damage and wasted stamina, so the trick was to be patient and observant. Every opponent had a tell that preceded each move, ranging from split-second wind-ups or pauses for basic punches to “let me move to the back of the ring before charging in and beating the shit from your ass” for the mega moves. Opponents also had certain times at which you could catch them off-guard and earn a star, which let you perform a high-damage uppercut.
Punch-Out was very challenging and most opponents took multiple tries to master. Fortunately, the game gave out passwords as you worked your way through the bouts, allowing you to work on learning new enemies without constantly replaying all of the prior ones.
What else made the list?
Only 20 more games made the list! Stay tuned for additional installments.
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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 398 posts on Delta Attack.