The 50 best NES games of all time

10. Tetris

“The Soviet mind game,” the cover declared. A case of the Commies flexing their muscles at the West, trying to confuse and intimidate us with their mind games? An example of international geopolitics trumped by cooperation in the gaming industry? Who cares! Tetris was and still is a ludicrously simple and an instantly addictive game.

9. Dragon Quest III

There have been many great rivalries in video game history. Nintendo vs. Sega, Playstation vs. XBOX, Metal Gear vs. Syphon Filter (okay, maybe that last one is a stretch), but one of the earliest and longest running is between the two colossi of Japanese RPGs: Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest. American audiences may be far more familiar with the former, but Dragon Quest is an industry unto itself in Japan: demand for the third installment was so high that nearly 300 school kids were arrested for truancy as they cut class to wait in line for its release. It’s hard to imagine anything less than a great game inspiring that kind of zeal.

And what a game it is! Old-school Japanese RPGs are famed for their massive worlds and lengthy quests, and Dragon Quest III is a perfect example of this: the hero’s journey spans two worlds and easily over fifty hours of gameplay. Aside from the main quest, there are hundreds of secrets to find and side plots to explore. Players with a lot of time on their hands will find plenty to sink their teeth into.

Dragon Quest III improved on its predecessors by increasing the player’s party size from one to four. Early in the game the player can choose characters from a variety of classes such as Fighters and Mages. These classes have distinct roles and abilities in combat, giving the player a great deal of flexibility in how they play the game.

The Dragon Quest franchise remains a juggernaut, with new titles coming out every few years. Although the developers make tweaks to the series, the core elements remain the same, and many of these elements were codified with Dragon Quest III, easily one of the best RPGs on the NES.

8. Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse

After experimenting with RPG elements and exploration with Simon’s Quest, Konami reined in the gameplay for the third installment in the Castlevania series, Dracula’s Curse. Set before the first two games, the game follows Simon Belmont’s ancestor, Trevor, as he seeks to vanquish Dracula. As usual for the series, the vanquishing doesn’t quite take.

Despite going back to platforming basics, Dracula’s Curse did introduce some changes of its own to the Castlevania formula. Main character Trevor Belmont is joined by three new characters who can accompany him: Sypha Belnades, a  sorceress with powerful spells; Grant Danasty, an oddly named pirate who can climb on walls; and Alucard, Dracula’s son who can shoot fireballs and fly around as a bat.

Although the game is divided into straightforward levels like the original Castlevania, there are a few points in Dracula’s Curse where the player can allow two different paths. This sort of branching gameplay adds variance to playthroughs, and there are different endings depending on which companion Trevor travels with.

7. Final Fantasy

Final Fantasy did for RPGs what GoldenEye 007 would later do for first-person shooters: it redefined what a genre was capable of. The original Final Fantasy improved and expanded upon mechanics first featured in games like the aforementioned Dragon Warrior — such as random battles and the overworld map — while developing a girth of new genre staples such as character classes and multi-character parties. The flagship title spurred an enormous media franchise, one encompassing more than a dozen video games, a swath of anime tie-ins, and borderline-horrendous CGI movie in 2001.

6. Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

Before biting off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear during the WBA Heavyweight Championship and appearing in the Hangover movies alongside Zach Galifianakis, Mike Tyson was boxing’s undisputed world champion and one of the toughest men on the planet. In 1987, Tyson lent his name to and appeared in the NES adaptation of the Punch-Out!! arcade game. It follows a fictional boxer known as Little Mac as he works his way up through professional boxing circuits, one left and right jab (and uppercut) at a time. By the transitive property, it is the undisputed world champion of Nintendo boxing games, featuring such colorful foes as Glass Joe, Soda Popinski and, of course, Mike Tyson himself as the game’s final boss–whose namesake was removed and appearance in the game replaced by “Mr. Dream” in future versions courtesy of his multiple legal stumbles).

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