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The 25 Bestest NES Games of All the Times: Part I
Now You're Playing With Power
"Bestest?" Really? Yeah, sorry about the goofy title. When writing an article that's positively been done to death by pretty much everyone with an internet connection, you have to come up with something that grabs a person's attention and doesn't let go.
You know, sort of like the Nintendo Entertainment System did for an entire generation of kids. The little gray VCR-looking thing pictured above is responsible for countless childhood memories for innumerable '80s and early '90s kids. With the possible exceptions of Madonna and (sadly) Menudo, there's little else from our bygone childhoods that's as deeply imbedded (for better or worse) into our present day psyches.
But it's mostly for the better. I'm certain that generation - raised on as much Castlevania as Cap'n Crunch - wouldn't have it any other way. I don't know about you guys, but I thank my lucky stars and Lucky Charms each and every morning that I didn't have to grow up with thoughtless, generic junk like this:
Some things you just can't change. Anyway, this is a list of GOOD videogames from a time when our digital hobby was all about one thing: fun. That's the common thread that holds every game on this list together. After all, that's what it's all about, right?
Sure it is. And to celebrate all 25 years of fun and good times the NES has brought us, I've put together this list (in two parts) of the best games ever produced for the old gray box - in my opinion at least. It's an anniversary party, so dig out those stonewashed jeans, turn on some Huey Lewis and the News and hop in the nearest DeLorean. We've gotta get back in time.
By the way, if anyone reading this is actually in possession of a time machine, please kindly allow me to borrow it. I would like to go back and erase that last sentence. Not sure what I was thinking there.
On with the list!
#25 - Bubble Bobble (Taito, 1988)
Playing as a bubble-blowing dragon may not be the manliest activity on the NES, but few can deny that it's one of the best. Much better with two players, Bubble Bobble was co-op before co-op was cool. The game actually even requires that you play with a bud if you really want to see it through to the true end.
But that's not to say that the single player experience is lacking at all. The game is a blast to this day, even if you're going solo, using your bubble breath to turn all manner of oddball critters into delicious food. Masculine? Not exactly. Awesomely fun with a sweet side? You betcha.
#24 - Maniac Mansion (Jaleco, 1990)
Though some of the more risque content was lost from the PC original when Maniac Mansion was ported to NES, this point 'n click adventure game kept every last ounce of the fun. Choose your characters and get lost in Dr. Fred's hilariously creepy estate. You'll love it, despite the disturbing lack of exploded hamsters - well, in most cartridges anyway. Consider yourself fortunate if your copy allows you to microwave "Weird Ed's" favorite pet.
One of the first games on NES to tickle the ol' funnybones, Maniac Mansion is a classic not to be missed. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll meet up with a clinically depressed talking tentacle. Miss all that originality? Don't worry. We all do.
#23 - Double Dragon (Tradewest, 1988)
Based only loosely on the arcade original, this standard-bearer beat 'em up outclasses the game that begat it, as well as all it's many sequels. Those are strong words, to be sure, but pop this one in your NES today and I think you'll agree with me.
That's not to say the game isn't without its faults. There are only four levels, the coin-op's two player mode is mysteriously absent and the game is unfairly difficult in spots. None of that, however, interferes with the fact that Double Dragon on NES is as fun as fighting games come. Boasting a unique level-up system, a memorable soundtrack, perfect control and a great cast of thugs to bloody and bruise, this isn't your everyday, neutered arcade-to-NES port. Quite the contrary, it's a game that takes the basic premise of a coin-operated classic and transforms it into something suitable for a home system.
The NES library is full of terrible arcade ports. Double Dragon bucks that lamentable trend and comes out a classic in its own right.
#22 - Kirby's Adventure (Nintendo, 1993)
The pink, possibly bulimic Kirby debuted on the NES in the system's twilight years, bringing with him a decade of grizzled programming know-how. And it shows. Kirby's Adventure makes so much of the Nintendo 8-bitter's relatively meager capabilities that comparing this title to earlier games on the system is one o' them apples and oranges things. It's so advanced, in technical terms, that it positively puts to shame pretty much the entire console's library, nearly rivaling the aesthetics of its 16-bit competition.
Luckily, Kirby has a great personality to go with all that sexy parallax scrolling and fancy-schmancy sprite work. It's a fun, easy-going action game that handily bests the original Game Boy adventure. I'm not afraid to say that I love this game and would likely marry it if such an action wasn't frowned upon.
Kirby's insatiable appetite and good looks have made for a relationship between man and pink puffball most state governments would never approve of, but this is a bromance that ain't gonna end anytime soon.
#21 - Metroid (Nintendo, 1987)
Samus Aran's first adventure on the desolate planet Zebes stands as one of the most unforgettable quests on the NES. A victim of the Nintendo's infamous excessively long password system and (oddly) lacking a map, Metroid is still one of the best ways to get lost on the NES. The atmosphere is moody, the graphics are simple, yet more than serviceable and the soundtrack stands as one of the most iconic on the system.
The game design is also just about perfect, so much so that virtually every game in the series follows the template of this venerable adventure. Later games in the Castlevania series also owe a tip of the cap to Samus' original outing, which just goes to show how impressive the whole package here is. The world of videogames misses you greatly, Gunpei Yokoi, but what a legacy you've left.
#20 - Excitebike (Nintendo, 1985)
Launched alongside the NES back in the fall of '85, Nintendo's first foray into the world of motorsports is definitely a memorable one. Probably the best pure racer on the system, Excitebike more than lived up to its "thrilling" title, offering gamers a wild ride that holds up extremely well after a quarter of a century on the market. The game was also the first cartridge on the system to offer up customization: players could design new courses in almost any manner they saw fit.
The one downer to all this do-it-yourself stuff was that the cart was produced without a battery. That means that all those user-created courses were gone as soon as the game was turned off. But that can't really be seen as too much of a negative. If anything, the lack of a game save inspired us to come up with even more crazy creations to ramp off of. Just don't overheat that bike!
#19 - Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (Nintendo, 1988)
1980s game designers were known for mixing up the formula a little bit, especially in the early days of some of gaming's greatest franchises. For whatever reason, the 2nd game in a few of the most popular NES series' have very little in common with their prequels. Chief among these is Zelda II , a follow up that was as much a departure from the original as could ever be imagined.
Trading in the top-down adventuring of the first game for a side-scrolling, combat heavy action game, this sequel is definitely the "freak" of the Zelda series. Weirdness aside, The Adventure of Link remains a standout NES title; one that's full of secrets and that still carries the open-world exploration and sense of wonder the series is so revered for. It's also harder than a month-old KFC biscuit, so if you're of the mindset that all Zelda games are easy, you're in for one heck of a rude awakening.
Though not often mentioned alongside the other greats in the Zelda series, Link is more than worthy and deserves a place in the collection of any Nintendo fan.
#18 - Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (Konami, 1988)
At the risk of losing all credibility, I'm going to come right out and say this: Castlevania II: Simon's Quest is better than the original. No, really. Save the spiteful comments for a few and allow me to explain.
In much the same vein as Zelda II, Simon Belmont's second outing is a near-total departure from its prequel. Whereas the original game was a linear platformer, the sequel is much more open-ended, allowing Simon to venture about - almost wherever he pleases - in his quest to find Dracula's missing body parts. That's kinda gross, but don't blame me. I didn't make the thing. The sequel also boasts superior graphics and sound, better control and a much more forgiving difficulty level. Okay, so it's a little too easy. No game is perfect, right?
Yeah, the translation is bad, and trying to decipher the completely cryptic advice of the no-good, lying villagers is a lost cause, leading to the necessity of a Nintendo Power subscription. Those are valid points, but as a whole, Simon's 2nd adventure whips the pants off of any of its adventure game contemporaries. It also marks the debut of "Bloody Tears," perhaps the best and most famous track in the long-running series' enviable song catalog.
Simon's Quest earns high marks in all the important categories, ending up as one of the very best adventure games on the system.
#17 - Bionic Commando (Capcom, 1988)
Another arcade-to-NES translation that has little to do with its coin-operated counterpart, Bionic Commando winds up being far superior to the quarter muncher of the same name. The arcade version of Bionic Commando is actually a mostly-forgettable exercise in frustration. That game's one saving grace (the mechanical claw, used in lieu of a jump button) served as the template to build this awesome game, making the original version as obsolete as it was forgotten.
On a mission to rescue "Super Joe," the hero from Commando, players stepped into the green spandex of "Radd Spencer" and began swinging their merry way through superbly designed, extremely difficult levels, not once missing that standard platformer ability: jumping. The best part of this classic is learning exactly how to best utilize your bionic arm in any given (and very tricky) situation.
Sadly, this Capcom masterstroke is missing in downloadable form on the current generation of gaming consoles. The remake, Bionic Commando: Re-Armed, is no slouch though, so grab that if you don't have a way to play this.
#16 - Super C (Konami, 1990)
"Mad Dog" and "Scorpion" return in this awesome sequel to Contra, once again squaring off against the malevolent forces of Red Falcon, an evil extraterrestrial with designs on world domination. Quite similar to the original, Super C takes the old "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality to the max, with outstanding results.
Choose your Schwarzenegger or Stallone wannabe and blow stuff up. It's that simple. Playing all by your lonesome still makes for a great gaming experience, but this is yet another game in the NES library that just begs to be shared with a pal. Either way you choose to play, this is one of the best run 'n gun entries on any system.
#15 - Disney's DuckTales (Capcom, 1989)
I'd have to learn another language to come up with enough words of praise for DuckTales on NES. I'm way too lazy to do that, however, so I'll just reprint some of the lyrics to the theme song below. Better.
Life is like a hurricane
Here in Duckberg
Racecars, lasers, aeroplanes
It's a duck-blur
Might solve a mystery
Or rewrite history!
Go ahead and sing it out right now, no matter where you are. You have my personal guarantee that everyone in the vicinity will absolutely love you for it. No thanks are necessary. Your personal joy is gratifying enough.
#14 - River City Ransom (American Technos, 1990)
Technos finally brought the funny to the overly-serious beat 'em genre with this American translation of Japan's massively popular Kunio-Kun series. Fortunately, the only thing lost in the translation were the original's Japanese school uniforms, replaced by jeans and t-shirts in the western version.
But no matter how you dress it up, River City Ransom is the funniest game on NES, full of as much humor as there are bully beat downs. Run down the street, crack some skulls and steal the unlucky victims' lunch money. For reals!
All this awesome chopsocky is pleasantly punctuated with RPG elements, utilizing a level-up system based on player purchases. Need some health? Grab some sushi or an energy-enhancing egg roll. Wanna learn some new fighting techniques? Read a book and let loose with a roundhouse that would fell Chuck Norris himself. Hard to believe, but all that is in this one game that sadly never got a proper follow-up. After 20 years, I'd say it's high time for a sequel.
#13 - Mega Man (Capcom, 1987)
Going by the atrocious box art pictured above, it's easy to see why Mega Man was only a modest success. Playing as a 40-something Tron reject is probably pretty low on the average gamer's list of things to do, so most of the game's "sleeper" status can likely be attributed to the fugly artwork adorning the game box.
Players adventurous enough to look past that ugliness, however, found a game that had little in common with its packaging. Mega Man was actually a boyish blue fighting robot, out to save the world from his six "brothers" who've run amuck. The evil Dr. Wily reprogrammed Mega Man's brethren to suit his own nefarious, world-conquering needs. It was up to the "blue bomber" to take down his rampaging robot friends, copy their abilities, then stop Dr. Wily.
If any of that sounds familiar, it's because the same basic storyline and game set-up is used in nearly every Mega Man game today, making this debut title as important to the series as it is awesome. Many game series change so much over the years that later games have little in common with the early entries. Not the case here, and the series is better for it. The concept and superb execution worked 23 years ago, and the results are the same today. Mega Man wasn't merely the beginning of something great. It's an outstanding game in and of itself.
It's A Secret to Everybody
Well, that's it for the first half of my NES 25th anniversary feature. Part II will feature my super secret picks for the top 12 games on the old 8-bitter, haphazardly slapped together by this stuck-in-the-past old guy. Be sure to check back soon (really, really soon) for that second and final part of my way-too-long-for-it's-own-good Nintendo game list. Until then, I leave you with this appropriately cheesy '80s commercial. Enjoy! It's part of a balanced breakfast!
Posted October 21, 2010