With the new year heading at us, I thought about doing a top list for 2013 or 2012, but those are pretty common place, so I decided to jump back to 1986 when the NES was really starting to roll in the US. I’m using US release dates as that’s where I live and 1986 is when I would have had access to these games.

Just Didn’t Bring It: Rampage, Dragon Warrior, Life Force

Adventure Island8. Adventure Island
I do realize that this game is also Wonder Boy, but I’m sticking with Adventure Island because I prefer that series. The original Adventure Island was a nifty little platforming game. Instead of a timer, you were forced to constantly pick up fruit as Master Higgin’s life meter depleted at a constant rate and fruit would increase it. This took the place of a timer for each level, but could be nerve wracking if you missed a few pieces or preferred to take your time in a level. This is also a pretty bare bones game, featuring just a couple of power-ups and none of the dinosaurs or such that future sequels would introduce. That isn’t to say that this is a bad game though. It is quite well designed and challenging and has become a classic since its release.

Kid Icarus7. Kid Icarus
Considering that this game series was dormant until just a couple of years ago, it’s quite amazing how popular this title has remained since its release. Built on the Metroid engine, Kid Icarus is primarily a vertical scrolling platformer that puts you in control of Pit. Your weapon is a bow and arrow and you ascend each level, fighting monsters, collecting hearts (currency), and purchasing upgrades and/or supplies. The vertical platforming is interrupted by maze like levels that you traverse one room at a time as you search for the boss. In the final level, you combine the treasures you have collected throughout the game to fly and take on Medusa. This is a difficult game without a doubt, but was designed well enough that it’s still very playable today.

Milon's Secret Castle6. Milon’s Secret Castle
This will be the most controversial entry on this list (as if this list could inspire controversy). Milon’s Secret Castle is a freaking hard game that I picked up on a whim at a rental store (it was for sale). Once I finally figured out the controls and item usage, I began to really love this game. It’s a bit of an open world game as you can enter available levels in the order you wish and revisit them at any time. Each one is entered by going in a door on the Castle referenced in the title. You advance higher on the Castle by defeating boss characters that only appear once you’ve advanced far enough on your current level, otherwise the room is empty. Milon’s Secret Castle is also packed with secret levels and items that really aren’t made obvious at all. This is definitely a flawed game, but it’s always held a special place in my heart.

Legendary Wings5. Legendary Wings
I’m most familiar with the NES port of this game, but it originated as an arcade title. Legendary Wings puts you in control of two warriors, given wings by Ares to take on Dark, a sentient computer that has turned on mankind. The game is split between overhead flying stages that would be perfectly at home in a SHMUP, and side scrolling stages. Like most such flying games, collecting upgrades makes you more powerful and makes dealing with the waves of enemies much easier. While I can’t pick any one thing that stands out about this game, everything it does it does very well and competently. Even years later, I can play the NES port and find a game that has stood the test of time. Finding a friend to play with makes it an even more enjoyable experience.

Bubble Bobble4. Bubble Bobble
It’s amazing that the simple premise behind Bubble Bobble could work so brilliantly. Playing alone or with a friend, you must play through 100+ one screen levels, clearing all the monsters from each screen to advance. This could easily get old fast, yet Bubble Bobble is so well designed that it doesn’t. It helps that the developers threw in special items that could permanently upgrade Bub and Bob (at least, until you died), and special bubbles that had special effects when burst. It’s also important to stay on the ball as enemies will turn red and move faster once a certain amount of time has passed. Linger too long after that happens and an invincible enemy appears that will hound you until it kills you or you clear the stage. Bubble Bobble is also one of the earliest games to feature multiple endings depending on your actions in Stage 100. Yet another game that can still be played today despite its age and technical limitations.

Castlevania3. Castlevania
The roots of one of my favorite series began right here with Castlevania. Taking some lore from Bram Stoker (and, of course, Vlad Tepas), Castlevania put you in the shoes of Simon Belmont and tasked you with taking down the vampire Dracula, as well as a host of other fiends standing between him and you. Castlevania is not without its faults. The difficulty is brutal, as is the realistic but punishing jump mechanic (once you jump, there is no changing direction). Still, the game is extremely well made and while the platforming may be difficult, it doesn’t feel impossible or cheap. In addition to the entertaining gameplay, Castlevania boasts one of the best soundtracks of any NES game, including the now classic Bloody Tears track.

Metroid2. Metroid
While being my favorite gaming franchise, I have to put the original Metroid title behind another game on this list. Metroid broke many conventions upon its release. You were no longer forced to advance from left to right, you explored one large world with no separate stages, and backtracking was a must as your abilities grew. Metroid demanded some expert platforming to traverse the large world and take on the numerous enemies, but it was always well-designed platforming, sparing you from frustration or a sense of being cheated. Metroid also successfully created an atmosphere unlike any seen before. Everything in the game, from the music to the scenery, created an incredible sense of isolation. You were alone in this world and your success or failure was entirely in your hands. No mention of Metroid would be complete without citing the surprise ending, finding out that your adventurer was actually the female bounty hunter, Samus Aran, as opposed to being a man, which is what most players probably assumed. This seems like nothing major now, but in 1986, a heroine was almost unheard of, especially one with the toughness of Samus Aran.

Legend of Zelda1. The Legend of Zelda
The grandfather of all adventure games. Much like Metroid, Zelda abandoned most conventions of gaming that existed upon its release and created its own rules. You controlled Link from an overhead perspective and moved one screen at a time. There were dungeon levels, but you were free to attempt them out of order, so long as you had the required items to reach them. The game also gave you obscure clues about where to go, but they could be very tricky to figure out. While this could be frustrating at times, once you did figure out what to do or where to go, it became a very rewarding experience. Not only is Legend of Zelda my top game of 1986, it is also one of my favorite games for the NES or any other console.

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