10. Kirby's Adventure - Kirby, the cute little pink puffball with his own cartoon series and continuing successes on home consoles, started his career at the end of the NES era in 1993. The concept seems a bit odd at first: A cute pink ball that literally sucks his enemies into his mouth, swallows them, then takes on their powers to fight more enemies. Turns out, it's an ultra-rad platformer that shreds your face off. The extra sweet final level is a must-play.
9. Final Fantasy* - Released in 1987, Final Fantasy was released at a time when console RPG games were virtually unknown to American gamers. Squaresoft saw the popularity of Dragon Warrior on the NES and decided to dip their toes into the console RPG world. While the franchise has over 13 sequels, the original was called Final Fantasy because head designer Hironobu Skaguchi decided that if if it was not a hit, he would quit the gaming industry altogether! The graphics were state-of-the-art and whimisical, thanks to the the stylized look provided by Yoshitaka Amano. Squaresoft streamlined the hard-to-access gameplay of PC RPGs and provided several classes of characters to choose from, which was great for newcomers to RPGs. The soundtrack was the icing on the cake for this all-time classic.
8. Castlevania - With the limited memory available to developers on NES cartridges, developers made a lot of games ridiculously difficult to provide more gametime to players, justifying a $35 price tag. Castlevania was one of the original "Thank you sir, may I please have another!" games. Using a chain-whip to work your way through Dracula's castle was a great time, but it was classic boss battles against the Mummy, Medusa's Head, Frankenstein, The Grim Reaper, and Dracula himself that made Castlevania a classic. I went through an entire summer and two smashed controllers to beat this masterpiece.
7. Metroid - Nintendo didn't just save the video game industry from the brink of oblivion with the NES, they blazed trails in console gaming that people follow to this day. Metroid is a massive game by today's standards, which means that by 1987 standards, it was as big as the Milky Way Galaxy. I hated drawing maps and taking notes for most games, but not Metroid. You made your way through the mind-boggling world by jumping, shooting, and finding power-ups like the Ice Gun and missles that didn't just make you more destructive, they also opened up new areas of the world. This tactic is used all the time in 2013. Thanks, Nintendo!
6. Ninja Gaiden** - That sweet sugary balance of immediately gratifying game mechanics coupled with a blood curdling rage from meticulously crafted challenges -- THAT'S masterful design. That's Ninja Gaiden. Few games are as satisfying to run full tilt through street boxers and skeleton bats via katana fire magic, granted you've attained Jedi-level timing and precision. Every inevitable death, however, was accompanied by the fiercely memorable soundtrack which extended its creepy cool extremities into the cut scenes as well. Taking a major leap forward in console game storytelling, the plot, advertised as "cinematic storytelling," matched the quality and tone of the best anime of the time, fueling each intense level.
5. Mega Man - The Blue Bomber's debut on the NES switched up the typical platformer script. You got to pick any of six stages to take on at the beginning, and if you picked the wrong one and made it all the way to the boss, you were basically screwed. See, you had to beat the bosses in the right order - when you beat one, you got his power, which was useful against one of the other bosses, but you didn't know which one. You HAD to master this game to get to the end! After you beat all six bosses, the difficulty really ratcheted up with insane trials. The game is so epic that brand new titles Mega Man 9 & 10 have been released on current consoles with the exact same graphic and music style as the 8-bit Mega Mans. That's just how I like it.
4. The Legend of Zelda - Again, Nintendo rubs their genius in my face with an all-time classic that's copied to this day. Link has been saving Zelda in various forms for over 25 years now, and every variation is fun. But Zelda was so unique; a fantasy adventure with no RPG qualities! It was an action/fantasy/adventure game that came down to twitch skills and map making abilities (or ridiculous patience) by the gamer. Legendary.
3. Bionic Commando - There was an arcade version of Bionic Commando that was pretty good, but not great. When it was released on the NES, they went in an entirely different direction while keeping the core gameplay mechanic in place, and Capcom ended up with an all-time classic on their hands. You can't jump in Bionic Commando, which was new for platformers; you had to use your bionic arm to swing from place to place, making perfect landings while shooting crazy soldiers who were resurrecting Hitler! It's manic fun from start to finish.
2. Super Mario Brothers 3 - Damn you Miyamoto! The designer of Donkey Kong/Zelda/Mario Brothers decided that, before releasing the epic Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo, he'd send Mario off of the NES in style. From the ultra funky music on the map screens to the insane amount of power ups, SMB 3 raised the bar for all platformers to come. I'm not proud of it, but I've never beaten this game without the warp whistles. Sue me!
1. Blaster Master - Have you ever seen a movie, read a book, or played a video game that made you think "Get out of my head! This is what I wanted to make!?" Blaster Master was that game for me. Your pet frog jumps down a well into a weird world, and you have to use your kick-ass six wheel tank-like mobile with a huge turret on top to save him. The power ups and backtracking had a Metroid feel to them, but the graphics, music, level design, ingenuity, pacing, and difficulty of Blaster Master were all perfect. It's the best game I ever played on the NES.
At last check, all of these games except for Mega Man are available for download at a very reasonable price on WiiWare for the Nintendo Wii or Wii U. Check them out!
* Written by Michelle Kisner
** Written by Jesse G. Barnes
- Article by Tom McDaniel