Best NES Games – Nintendo Life

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© Nintendo Life

The Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES (ness? nezz? enn-eee-ess?), is the archetypal home video game console. Sure, earlier machines such as the mighty Atari 2600 pioneered the basic concept of an under-the-TV console with interchangeable software and controller accessories, but the utilitarian design and hardware innovations of Nintendo’s 8-bit system set the stage for modern console gaming.

Following the video game ‘crash’ of 1983, the NES (or Famicom in Japan) defied naysayers and singlehandedly brought the industry back stronger than ever thanks to canny marketing and — more significantly — an excellent software library. In the early days, solid ports of hits like Donkey Kong gave players a taste of the arcade in their homes, and game design innovations (and the introduction of on-cartridge chips) further enhanced and expanded the potential for developers making games on the humble NES. Compare 1983’s Donkey Kong port to 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 3 and it’s hard to believe they’re running on the same system.

Below you’ll find a list of the top 50 NES games ever made. As with many of our other Top 50 system lists, the ranking below is governed by User Ratings submitted by Nintendo Life readers, so this list is not set in stone. The ordering will continue to evolve automatically according to each game’s User scores (from 0-10) on the Nintendo Life game database. Disagree with the order? Have your say by scrolling down and rating them now! And if you’ve rated them already? Thank you kindly — sit back and enjoy.

If there’s a game bubbling under the top 50 that you’d like to rate, feel free to find it using the search tool below and give it a score out of 10. Otherwise, scroll down and enjoy our round up of the very best NES games ever…

Eliminator Boat Duel (NES)Eliminator Boat Duel (NES)

Publisher: Electro Brain / Developer: Sculptured Software

Release Date: Nov 1991 (USA) / 29th Apr 1993 (UK/EU)

One of the lesser-known entries in the NES lineup, Eliminator Boat Duel is worth firing up if you’ve never taken its powerboats for a spin. A bird’s-eye view racer from the early ’90s, it isn’t likely to rock your world, but it’s a solid addition to the console’s library and there are many worse ways to spend an hour or two than at the wheel of a ruddy great 8-bit powerboat. The odd ’90s mix of 12-year-old boy’s fantasy and technicolor on the cover alone makes it worth investigating at least once.

Star Soldier (NES)Star Soldier (NES)

Publisher: Hudson / Developer: Hudson

Release Date: 30th Jul 2007 (USA) / 15th Aug 2013 (UK/EU)

As vertical shooters go, Star Soldier hasn’t aged brilliantly, and looks particularly drab these days. It’s not without merit, and shooter fans may get a kick from it, but better alternatives are readily available. One for ‘fans of the genre’ only, then.

Final Fantasy II (NES)Final Fantasy II (NES)

Publisher: Square / Developer: Square

Release Date: TBA

This is very much not the Final Fantasy II the West received on Super NES. While work on a translation of this Famicom game was apparently started, Square eventually decided to skip it and jump to the 16-bit Final Fantasy IV on the SNES instead (which was labelled as ‘Final Fantasy II’ overseas).

Final Fantasy II–the proper 8-bit one–was a Japan-only release until 2004 when Nintendo gamers around the world were able to play it as one half of Final Fantasy I & II: Dawn of Souls on GBA. That version added a bonus section after you’d completed the game, and remains arguably the best way for Nintendo gamers to play officially, although there are ways and means to play the game elsewhere, too, including ports on PlayStation and PSP.

Pro Wrestling (NES)Pro Wrestling (NES)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo

Release Date: 1st Mar 1987 (USA) / 15th Sep 1987 (UK/EU)

“A WINNER IS YOU.” This game is worth playing at least once just to see that iconic meme phrase in its original context. It’s a simple interpretation of professional wrestling with a slim roster, but it’s charged with nostalgia and personality, and given the sorry state of the genre in recent years (Fire Pro Wrestling notwithstanding), you could do much worse than returning to Pro Wrestling for a bout.

Wrecking Crew (NES)Wrecking Crew (NES)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D1

Release Date: 19th Nov 2007 (USA) / 24th Aug 2007 (UK/EU)

Wrecking Crew isn’t something we’d recommend spending vast sums on, but it’s definitely worth checking out as part of the Nintendo Switch Online package of NES games. It can be a frustrating experience and it lacks the control finesse players would come to expect from later Nintendo efforts, but as an early 8-bit Mario puzzle-platformer, it certainly warrants investigation.

Yoshi (NES)Yoshi (NES)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Game Freak

Release Date: 1st Jun 1992 (USA) / 10th Dec 1992 (UK/EU)

Known as Mario & Yoshi in Europe and Yoshi’s Egg in Japan, Yoshi is hardly the most scintillating of puzzlers, but we’ve played worse tile-matching games in our time and it does have a relatively unique plate/column switching mechanic. We’d recommend firing it up for a moment or two to see if the concept catches on. If so, great! If not, move along.

Solomon's Key (NES)Solomon's Key (NES)

Publisher: Tecmo / Developer: Tecmo

Release Date: 19th Nov 2006 (USA) / 15th Dec 2006 (UK/EU)

A challenging game with imprecise controls that you’ll be pleased to have the rewind function for, Solomon’s Key is nonetheless an enjoyable action-puzzler from Tecmo that’s worth playing today – provided you’ve got the patience for it.

Donkey Kong 3 (NES)Donkey Kong 3 (NES)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D1

Release Date: 14th Jul 2008 (USA) / 9th Jan 2009 (UK/EU)

Perhaps most notable for introducing Stanley the Bugman into the Nintendo canon, Donkey Kong 3 is an odd departure from the previous entries in the series from back when sequels didn’t mean rinsing and repeating the concept from the previous game ad infinitum. It’s certainly not up to the standard of the arcade original but it’s still a fascinating slice of Nintendo history and worth firing up at least once.

Ice Climber (NES)Ice Climber (NES)

Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo R&D1

Release Date: 30th Jan 1985 (USA) / 16th Mar 2007 (UK/EU)

Ice Climber is a solid concept let down by finicky controls. Scaling its mountains can offer diversion if you can overcome how awkward it feels in a modern context, but anyone checking this out on the strength of the characters’ inclusion in Smash Bros. best prepare themselves for a cold shower.

Final Fantasy (NES)Final Fantasy (NES)

Publisher: Square Enix / Developer: Squaresoft

Release Date: 5th Oct 2009 (USA) / 7th May 2010 (UK/EU)

Where it all began. The name of Square’s original Final Fantasy from 1987 came partly from the team’s belief that this was their last-ditch attempt to make a successful game. They may have hoped for it, but few could have predicted quite how successful the series would become.

Going back, you might not guess so either from a vintage RPG which is very bare-bones by modern standards. The kernel is there, though, so although new players will definitely need to wash this down with a strong glass of historical context, series fans will find it worth investigating or revisiting. It’s available in various forms, and is one of the titles on the NES Classic Mini.




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