The best NES games of all time

From Mario to Mega Man, these classic NES titles helped define gaming

The success of NES Classic Edition and has shown that the love for Nintendo’s classic console is still alive and well. The official emulator prepacked with 30 games (or more if you’re willing to wade into the legal gray area and download some ROMs) is a neat device. A Nintendo Switch Online subscription also grants you access to a growing library of great NES games. Still, nothing beats the real thing. 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 picks for the best NES games.

Action

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 platforming 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.

Contra

There’s no denying the ’80s was a decade of super-muscular action flicks (think Sylvester Stallone in Rambo, Arnold Schwarzenegger in anything). The action heroes used massive machine guns and biceps to blow stuff up, and like the aforementioned blockbusters, Konami’s beefy title basked in a sea of high testosterone and ammunition.

There wasn’t really any real strategy to Contra, other than holding down the “fire” button and running like hell, and its brutal difficulty pretty much made cooperative play a necessity for amateurs and professional gamers alike. Moreover, the game popularized the now-famous Konami code, one giving players 30 lives to squander in their mad dash for victory.

Jackal

Released in the United States three years after Rambo: First Blood Part II, Jackal was also about the rescue and retrieval of POWs. However, whereas Stallone relied on a barrage of explosive arrows and a mean six pack, Jackal relied on a Jeep outfitted with an upgradeable rocket launcher and a heavy-set machine gun.

As with most run-and-gun games, players lost lives when taking damage in the title, gained lives when they garnered points, and were faced with a myriad off boss battles once they dropped off their rescued comrades at their respective rescue locations for helicopter pickup. Yet, unlike Rambo, players were far more productive with a teammate who could lend a helping, trigger-happy hand than alone.

Rygar

rygar4

Often overshadowed by similar games such as Metroid and The Legend of Zelda, Rygar was an action/platformer game known for its unfortunate combination of high difficulty and lack of a save function. The player must seek out five magic items, all guarded by bosses, in order to ascend to the floating castle of the evil King Ligar for a final confrontation. Some areas can only be accessed with certain items, a la Metroid, encouraging exploration and backtracking.

Given that the “Metroidvania” genre has so long been dominated by the two titular franchises (Metroid and Castlevania) Rygar is a fun little curio, taking the standard elements of the genre and setting them in a Mesopotamian-inspired world. As mentioned, the game is known for its draconian difficulty, but thanks to modern conveniences like emulators, it is possible to alleviate some of its problems through save states.

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