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Top 10 Classic NES Games

Updated on July 12, 2013


The Classic NES is fondly remembered as having a plethora of wonderful games -- good games were actually dripping from the shelves at the stores. Well... That's mostly rose-tinted nostalgia goggles. The Nintendo Entertainment system actually had a lot of really bad games. But yes, I gladly concede that it had a number of great ones. Here is a list of the ten that I consider to be the best. It's somewhat heavy on platformers, but that is what it is: a reflection of the games being released at the time.

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest
Castlevania II: Simon's Quest

10. Castlevania II: Simon's Quest

The second entry in the Castlevania series was a lot different from the first: it took steps towards the action-adventure genre that wouldn't be repeated until Symphony of the Night on the Playstation, in 1997. The free-travel system was really unique when this game came out, and it was a lot of fun to travel to the different castles. Of course, the game could have been a lot better than it was. It was notoriously obscure when it came to telling the player what they had to do in order to advance -- and the idea of fall-through blocks has never been ok. Still, the game's pros outweigh its cons. Plus, Simon's Quest gave us one of the most instantly recognizable tunes in all of gaming: Bloody Tears.

Conquest of the Crystal Palace
Conquest of the Crystal Palace

9. Conquest of the Crystal Palace

Conquest of the Crystal Palace isn't as well known as any of the other games on this list, but it was a lot of fun, and it was way ahead of its time. It had the standard action-adventure platformer feel, but the upgrades you purchased, along with details like a changing time of day as you progressed through a level, cause this game to stand out. The music is also really catchy; and thet Asian-inspired motifs as far as the art goes is something different for the era. I haven't actually finished the game, because as you progress, the levels -- and especially the bosses -- become rock hard. It's worth playing though, for sure.

Ninja Gaiden II - The Dark Sword of Chaos
Ninja Gaiden II - The Dark Sword of Chaos

8. Ninja Gaiden II - The Dark Sword of Chaos

If Conquest of the Crystal Palace was hard as rock, Ninja Gaiden II is harder than the adamantium running through Wolverine's bones. I've beaten it though. I even wrote one of the FAQs that are on GameFAQs. Do you know how I was able to make it through such a difficult game? Well, admittedly with a sore throat from so much cursing: but through perseverance. The second installment of the Ninja Gaiden original trilogy is hard, but it's a lot of fun. Taking the same basic design of the first game, but making the levels more interesting, and adding the ability to climb walls was a recipe for success. Truth be told though, I wouldn't recommend going anywhere near it without save states. I took one for the team so that you don't have to.


7. StarTropics

StarTropics. Those of you who are in college, or have already graduated, have probably played it. As of Nintendo finally giving in and releasing a new Punch-Out!!, and due to a sequel of Kid Icarus being in development for the 3DS, StarTropics may have earned the distinction of being the Nintendo series that is in most need of being revived. I have no doubt that a sequel would be a lot of fun, but the NES original did something special when it came out: it took the Zelda formula and improved on it. It was StarTropics that paved the way towards the great Link to the Past on the SNES -- and let's be honest. The original Legend of Zelda was kind of primitive in comparison. StarTropics was where it was at.

Little Samson
Little Samson

6. Little Samson

Little Samson: It's another overlooked game that I happen to have written an FAQ for. I'm not making a cheap plug or anything. Just saying! Anyway, unlike the previous three platformers that I've mentioned, Little Samson isn't teeth-grittingly difficult. In fact, that's probably enough to set it apart from the vast majority of games on the NES. You don't need android reflexes, or a guide telling you where to duck for ten seconds in order to complete it. Not content to differentiate itself just by being possible to finish though, this game gives us a whole slew of levels, branching paths between the stages, and four playable characters, whom each employ different gameplay mechanics. It also had two difficulty options, and was probably one of the first games to play the "play on hard mode to get the true ending" card. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but there's a bit of trivia for you.

Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse

5. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse

And hitting a U-turn, returning to really difficult games: Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse. This game ditched the free-roam aspect of the second game in favor of a more traditional platforming experience, but in doing so it managed to greatly improve on the traditional Castlevania formula. The levels in this game are far more interesting than the levels of the first game ever were, with areas like the flooded castle, the ghost ship, and the clock tower standing out. Like Little Samson, Castlevania III employs branching paths. It takes it a step further though, with these paths affecting which characters you'll come across, and be able to take with you. In addition to playing as Trevor Belmont, you'll also be able to play as a pirate named Grant, a spirit named Sypha, and the son of Dracula, Alucard. The game was actually really ambitious for its time. I appreciated the branching paths the most every time I started the game over due to how difficult it was, in an attempt to find an easier path through. I haven't yet found such a path.

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

4. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!

I love the Punch-Out!! games. I'm not into sports games at all, and that includes boxing games. But the way that Punch-Out!! wraps it up as a completely different package, part puzzle, part reflex test, and with the sports element only as a distant third? I can gladly sign on for that. Punch-Out!! has two particularly long-lasting contributions to the gaming society. One is a meme involving Little Mac's bike, that you've probably all seen by now. The other is the myth of the Mike Tyson fight being one of the most difficult boss battles of all time. Well... It's not so much a myth as it is a truth. But that doesn't make the game any less amazing.

Super Mario Bros. 2
Super Mario Bros. 2

3. Super Mario Bros. 2

Ok, so it's not an original Mario game (read: Doki Doki Panic.) Hell, it was released just months before the third Super Mario Bros., and might be viewed as little more than an attempt to build hype. Well, the ends justify the means here. Super Mario Bros. 2 was a really fun game. A lot of the enemies have become mainstays in the Mario universe since this game's release: Shy Guy, and Birdo are probably the most recognizable. It's kind of peculiar that we haven't revisited subspace though.Hey, Nintendo, how about another show down with Wart? If nothing else, can you at least give us a turnip to throw at someone in the next Mario game? Thanks!

Kirby's Adventure
Kirby's Adventure

2. Kirby's Adventure

Ever play the first Kirby game? Kirby's Dream Land? It was a fun little romp, but I contend that if Kirby's Adventure were not released, Kirby would have died on the Game boy. In the twelve-minute long Game boy game, Kirby didn't have his copy ability -- and if you ask the average gamer what makes Kirby, Kirby, 9 out of 10 of them are going to say it's the copy ability. The tenth is going to say the pinkness -- and guess what? The pinkness came from Kirby's Adventure as well. Kirby was originally meant to be white. The more you know, right? Well aside from basically sculpting what would become a lasting legacy for the pink puffball, Kirby's Adventure was an excellent game. Coming out as late as 1993, it's not much of a surprise that Nintendo knew enough tips and tricks to make Kirby a technically impressive. But there's no substitute for good design: and Kirby's Adventure had a lot of it.

Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario Bros. 3

1. Super Mario Bros. 3

Was there any doubt of what the top game on this list would be? Probably not. When Super Mario Bros. 3 was released it set the bar for platforming games so high, that in the 25 years since its release, its quality has been only occasionally approached, and never surpassed. The game has a huge variety of and number of levels, and has far more power ups than any other Mario game to come out. Can I really be the only one who wants the Hammer Bros. suit to make a comeback? I know there's enough of a following for the Kuribo's Shoe, after all. The fact that Nintendo hasn't touched the greatness or the ambition of Super Mario Bros. 3 with any of their following Mario games is a real testament to how good it was: because most of those games were also pretty great.

Which of the games listed is your favorite?

See results


And that closes off the list! Hopefully the choices of games, or the games that were left off were not too offensive to the more opinionated among you. For the curious, some of the games that missed the top-ten cutoff point are listed below. But I'd also like to hear what games readers would have included on their lists -- so please, do leave a comment and let me know.

The Legend of Zelda
Super Mario Bros.
Dragon Quest III
Mega Man 2
River City Ransom


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    • AlexisG profile image


      3 years ago

      Solid list and one that hits a variety of genres. I see a couple personal favorites on here.

    • NornsMercy profile image


      8 years ago from Charlotte, NC

      I liked your countdown. It's not as predictable as the other ones (maybe except Mario 3 but that's just a crime to not have it on a countdown). :D Voted up and more.

    • RolyRetro profile image


      8 years ago from Brentwood, Essex, UK

      I would have included Dragon Quest III, part of a series that I have only recently discovered as it was not officially released in the UK. Great hub!




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