NESEventually, I intend to do a post like this for all the systems I’ve played (I’ve already warned you that I love lists). I do realize that a “Top 8” is an odd number for a list, but I wanted more than five, less than ten, and GamesRadar has already claimed lists with seven entries.

Honorable Mentions: Ninja Gaiden 2, Robowarrior, Final Fantasy, Crystalis, Faxanadu, Mega Man 1/2/4/5/6, Ducktales, Castlevania 2, Blaster Master, Startropics

8. AdvenAdv Island 3ture Island 3
The Adventure Island series is a bit funky. It started as the Wonder Boy series, then became Adventure Island on the NES (licensing issues, I believe). I never cared much for the original, but really loved the second one. I feel that this entry took everything Adventure Island 2 did and made it better. New items, new dinosaurs to ride, and the return of the item storage/inventory system. Throw in some great level design and a ton of secrets, and you have a recipe for a very memorable game.

Guardian Legend7. The Guardian Legend
Part Legend of Zelda, part schmup. The Guardian Legend is a game that tasks you with exploring a planet’s innards to defuse a bomb while occasionally flying over the planet’s exterior to take on bosses (exploring and flying are done in two differing forms). Blending genres in a game is all too often a recipe for mediocrity, but not only does it work in this game, it works extremely well.

Castlevania 3 6. Castlevania 3: Dracula’s Curse
As much as I love the oddball Castlevania 2, I still believe this entry to be the best (on the NES). It followed the formula of the original Castlevania, but with many improvements and tweaks. The levels were more intricate and featured branching paths, the graphics were improved, and three secondary characters with varying skill sets were added. This added a strategy unseen in previous entries as Trevor could only have one companion at a time. Which one you decided on (when you encountered them) would make a difference in later stages, greatly simplifying a few of them if you had the proper teammate.

Kirby's Adventure5. Kirby’s Adventure
This was my first exposure to Kirby, and it still stands out in my mind. Kirby is sort of like a Mega Man game with a few more powers and the ability to fly. Unlike his first game on the GB, Kirby’s Adventure allowed Kirby to inhale enemies and absorb their power as opposed to just shooting them back out as star projectiles. This new ability allowed for numerous clever puzzles and secrets that were accessible only with the proper power equipped, possibly one you had to keep throughout the stage (made harder by your power being knocked loose upon getting hit).

Metroid4. Metroid
Metroid’s mechanics flew in the face of traditional gaming fare. There were no proper levels in the game. Instead, the entire world was there for your exploration…provided you had the proper power-ups. Backtracking and careful exploration were key to this game. You could easily explore the same area three or four times as the game went on and find something new each time as your arsenal and abilities grew. As a final kick to standard conventions of the time, it turns out that Samus Aran was a woman. Not a big deal now, obviously, but pretty mind-blowing at the time. Bonus points to this game for eventually leading us to the sublime Super Metroid.

Mega Man 33. Mega Man 3
Popular opinion usually puts Mega Man 2 as the best of the series, but I’ve always felt 3 was the better game. It introduced a few new conventions that became staples: Mega Man’s ability to slide and the inclusion of his faithful companion Rush. This game was also our first exposure to Proto Man, Mega Man’s brother who has also become a popular character in the franchise. While adding some new tricks, Mega Man 3 also stayed true to the previous entries, while adding much more content. For instance, after defeating the initial 8 robot masters, you must reenter four of their levels and take on 8 more boss battles with a robot mimicking each of the robot masters from Mega Man 2. All of this is in addition to some of the best level design you will ever see in a video game.

Zelda 22. Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link
Bucking convention again with this pick. Zelda 2 is usually derided for being too different and for having a high level of difficulty. The criticisms are fair as this game is quite different from the original and can be very unforgiving. The overhead navigation is still present, but cave/town/temple exploration and all combat takes place on a 2-D plane. Unlike many people, I’ve always enjoyed the change-up from the first game and learned to deal with the difficulty curve years ago. What I like most about this game though, is that it has always felt like a true adventure to me. Hyrule is quite large in this game and contains multiple towns to visit and temples to conquer. There are also numerous caves containing story related items and health/magic increases to be found. Zelda 2 took away battle items such as the boomerang and bomb and replaced them with new items that affected what you could do and where you could go on the overhead map. It also introduced experience, limited leveling abilities, and surprisingly useful magic spells, all a first for the series. I maintain to this day that this game is underrated and is superior to the original Legend of Zelda.

Mario 31. Super Mario Brothers 3
In the end, there is only one choice here. I love this game. It is very nearly platforming perfection. Super Mario Brothers 3 wrung everything it could out of the NES and is a game that still stands up beside today’s games. The graphics are top notch for the NES, as is the music. The Koopalings (who I vastly prefer over Bowser, Jr.) had very similar patterns, but their air ships were varied and offered a unique challenge each time you took one on. The map screen offered some choice in level progression as well as an inventory system filled with items obtained via Toad Houses, Hammer Brothers encounters, and a card matching game. Topping off the new offerings were an array of power-ups, headed up by the beloved Leaf. Taking Mario to the skies for the first time is something I will never forget experiencing. For all these reasons, and many more that I’m not even listing, Super Mario Brothers 3 is my #1 NES game.

  1. Brian says:

    I do believe “Castlevania 3” was a featured challenge at a game party I attended Labor Day weekend. I can still hear the cries of “F&*%$@# owls!”

  2. javgbadmin says:

    Oh, I skip that swamp level with them. They’re almost as bad as the hawks in Ninja Gaiden. Almost.

  3. brandonmc87 says:

    No Mario 1? You’re killing me.

  4. Kaven says:

    agreed with Mario 3 and Metroid.i have only played Kirby on the game boy,only heard of Guardian Legend and Zelda 2(and agreed,bigger world is good).might have played 3,branching paths are good.i love me some options.i like treasure hunting almost more.i played a little Mega Man 2(rental) and no 3.anyways,i would add Final Fantasy and Ninja Gaiden to my list.Ninja Gaiden takes me back,i always love hearing that music.and to get back to Metroid,i have only seen some gameplay(cousin) but i know i would put it on my list would i play it.Ducktales is one of mine also.i played too few NES games šŸ˜›

    • Kaven says:

      might have played Castlevania 3*

    • javgbadmin says:

      I might have gone with Final Fantasy, but I prefer the PS Origins release b/c it cleaned up some of the gameplay. Ninja Gaiden was a tough omission, I’ll admit, and there are some days that I probably would have swapped it out up there with another game.

      But no Zelda 2 or Mega Man 3??? You got some catching up to do man! šŸ˜‰

      • Kaven says:

        yeah i the time i got my SNES we’d have moved and lost my NES so i didn’t get to play too much with it.a shame but what could i do,i was very young then.i have played Dawn of souls but not the ps1 version of Final Fantasy.i still think it’s solid,even if the turn-based action was raw and not too good(unclear turn queue)

  5. Alaharon123 says:

    I like this list because it’s not a regular list. Still, no punch-out?

    • JAVGB says:

      I have never, ever been a fan of Punch-Out. I’ve played it quite a bit over the years, and it has just never appealed to me at all. I’m not even sure what about it I don’t like, I just don’t. For example, my least favorite part of The Wonderful 101 was the boss battle that was an homage to Punch-Out. Had to grind through that part.

      • Alaharon123 says:

        That’s really interesting! The only nes game I liked more than Punch-Out was smb3, I didn’t know there were people who can’t stand it

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