The success of NES Classic Edition has shown that the love for Nintendo’s classic console is still alive and well. Though the official emulator pre-packed with 30 games (or more if you’re willing to wade into the legal gray territory and download some ROMs) is a neat device, nothing beats the original. Whether you have one stashed away in a closet somewhere or you’ve just picked one up off eBay, there are a lot of great games on the console that are worth playing again, even after all these years. These are our favorites.
Rankings: #50 through #41
50. ‘Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest’
Sometimes greatness is less about actually being good than about being bold. That’s certainly the case for Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest, which built upon the platforming adventure gameplay of the first Castlevania and added RPG elements, such as a world map and experience system. The game adopted the nonlinear exploration of Metroid, which made for much more open gameplay, however many of the items needed to finish the game are hidden in extremely esoteric locations, requiring the player to decipher cryptic clues given by NPCs or else simply stumble upon the items in question. As such, Simon’s Quest has developed a reputation for notoriously fiendish difficulty, being nigh impossible to complete without a guide.
While Simon’s Quest may not be the most fun or well-designed game on the NES, it did introduce a number of mechanics to the series and video games in general; starting with Symphony of the Night, RPG elements would become a staple part of the franchise, and Simon’s Quest was also one of the first video games to include a day/night cycle, in which the game would become significantly harder during the night time. People may not enjoy playing Castlevania II, but being great isn’t always about being liked.
49. ‘Metal Gear’
“Metal Gear!?” Long before David Hayter’s gravelly baritone, before Hideo Kojima’s increasingly cinematic aspirations (see: Death Stranding), before Raiden, there was only Metal Gear. Solid Snake’s first adventure, although very primitive compared to the more extravagant sequels of recent years, still shows some of the franchise’s hallmark gameplay. It’s a sneaking mission. Snake must infiltrate an enemy facility, using cover to avoid enemies as best he can. Of course, weapons and equipment are OSP (on-site procurement.) If Snake is seen by a guard, all the guards in the area will swarm him. However, the AI is not very complex, so it’s easy to throw them off your trail. For fans of the Metal Gear Solid series, playing the original Metal Gear is like studying the bones of an ancient animal; it’s fascinating to see which parts have endured through the ages, and which parts evolved into cyborg ninjas.
48. ‘Life Force’
After the runaway success of Gradius, a follow-up was naturally in order. That follow-up was a spin-off called Salamander, and like its predecessor, it first made its debut as an arcade game before becoming inevitably adapted for the NES. Renamed Life Force on consoles, the shooter placed players back in the cockpit of the Vic Viper, this time allowing friends to tag along in a spacecraft called the Lord British. It’s not a far flung departure from the original, but it did introduce a simplified leveling system and levels that shuffle between horizontal and vertical scrolling perspectives. Still, actually blasting away giant, floating brains on six stages is far better than watching five minutes of the 1988 anime adaptation of the title.
47. ‘Kung Fu’
Repetitive and simplistic fun, Kung Fu is much like Duck Hunt. The title started out as Kung-Fu Master, an old arcade game, and was then ported to various consoles such as the NES after the 8-bit revolution, dropping the “Master” portion of the title in the process. Featuring only five side-scrolling stages, a dedicated player could punch and kick through the game in a matter of minutes, and once beaten, it would start over at a higher difficulty setting. It contains elements of Bruce Lee’s Game of Death, represents one of the earliest beat-’em-up games for the console, and is often brutally summarized as, “rescue girlfriend – hit people” — which is more than an apt description.
46. ‘Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword Of Chaos’
Unfurling one year after the events of Ninja Gaiden, the second installment in the series was centered on Ryu’s quest to thwart the evil emperor Ashtar and his plans for world domination. It was essentially the same song and dance, with improved 8-bit visuals and a tighter control scheme, and the ability to scale walls in addition to merely jumping on them. Moreover, Ryu could utilize a slew of power-boosting items such as shurikens and fireballs, and clone he could clone himself — making boss battles slightly easier. The new abilities, along with the developer’s continued focus on music and cinematic cutscenes, make this sequel just as captivating as the original.
45. ‘Kid Icarus’
Kid Icarus was developed and released alongside Metroid, and while the latter became a megawatt hit spurring a plethora of great sequels, Kid Icarus quietly fell into the cult classic category. The platformer was ridiculously difficult thanks to the perpetually-scrolling screen that moved up as you ascended, rendering any poorly-timed jumps or precarious footing a catastrophe waiting to happen. Also, it didn’t help that most of the floating platforms were incredibly narrow and difficult to navigate even without the whole, scrolling facet. Icarus might have flown too close to the sun and tumbled in the sea, but that was a cakewalk compared to this game. The latest entry in the series, and, sadly, possibly the last, Kid Icarus Uprising modernized the mechanics introduced in the original for 3DS.
44. ‘Duck Hunt’
Hardly anyone went out and bought Duck Hunt (just like hardly anyone watched Duck Hunt: The Movie). Nonetheless, it managed to find its way into people’s homes thanks to it being packaged with Super Mario Bros. The game was a mindless and repetitive time-killer in the Angry Birds kind of way, requiring players to shoot a set number of ducks in a single round in order to advance. Aside from the dog that would appear onscreen and laugh at your face if you failed to shoot any ducks, the title was most famous for being one of the first — and only — games to utilize the bundled NES Zapper light gun. Frankly it was quite repetitive and mindless, but nonetheless, that didn’t make shooting all 10 targets in a single round any easier.
43. ‘Vice: Project Doom’
Vice: Project Doom was a sleeper hit when it first debuted in ’91, but truly for no reason at all. The storyline was original and intriguing, focusing on a detective and his investigation of a secret alien corporation and a food substance moonlighting as a highly addictive drug on the black market. It was a multi-genre game, showcasing platformer elements akin to Ninja Gaiden and driving segments reminiscent of Spy Hunter, with first-person shooting elements trickling through via a .44 Magnum and M-24 sticky grenades. Moreover, it’s embellished with all the standard facets players came to expect, such as a health gauge and a limited number of lives, while boasting 11 levels of futuristic weaponry and cinema-style cutscenes.
42. ‘A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia’
This 1989 classic is the heartwarming and exciting story about, well, a boy and his blob. Combining elements of platformers and puzzlers, A Boy and His Blob follows the pair on their quest to save the blob’s home planet, Blobolonia, from an evil dictator. On their way, the boy collects jelly beans he then feeds to the blob to change its respective shape into something better suited for the environment. For example, licorice-flavored jelly beans turn the blob into a ladder, vanilla jelly beans will turn it into an umbrella, and if you’re in need of a bridge, simply feed your blob a strawberry-flavored jelly bean. A Boy and His Blob is like E.T. — if E.T. preferred jelly beans over Reese’s Pieces and could turn into an umbrella.
41. ‘Adventure Island II’
The original Adventure Island didn’t just seem like a blatant ripoff of Sega’s Wonder Boy, that’s exactly what it was. However, the sequel switched things up a bit with some good ol’ fashioned dinosaur-wrangling and skateboarding. The title is a classic “guy saves girlfriend from bad guy” games, one in which you play as white-capped yachtsman Master Higgins.