A game which flew under the radar at the time it came out, but which has since gone on to become a well known and beloved cult classic for its brilliant gameplay and quirky sense of humor. River City Ransom is another blend of two genres - brawler and RPG in this case - that works out extremely well. As you traveled around the map and defeated enemies, you'd earn money, which could be used to buy food items to restore health and boost stats or skill books that would enable new moves like triple punches, somersaults and, most awesomely, the "Javelin Man" - the ability to throw an enemy like a javelin to clobber several other opponents at a time. An amazingly fun and unique game with great replay value, and a blast to play in two-player mode as well.
9. Battletoads (Rare, 1991)
Battletoads is a name that brings back fond gaming memories and thoughts of dread in roughly equal measure. On one hand, it is a game known for being fun, well designed and having fantastic visual effects and music for the NES. On the other, it's punishingly difficult. A majority of the game is taken up by obstacle courses that traveled at mile-a-minute speeds and required lightning reflexes to make it through, and one mistake usually resulted in your death and sent you back to the previous checkpoint. Even the two player mode didn't help much with this, as one player's death on an obstacle course would end the attempt for both, and if one person lost all their lives, both would be booted to the continue screen and have to restart the level - questionable programming, to be sure. But as a single player game, it was a great challenge and exceptionally fun once you were used to its special brand of sadism, and hey, if you could actually beat it in one go, even with the lives code, you were the man.
8. Crystalis (SNK, 1990)
A slightly more RPG-oriented take on the overhead action/adventure genre by the masters of 2D eye candy in the 90s, SNK. The game not only featured great visuals and massive boss monsters, but some clever gameplay systems as well. In addition to four elemental swords, each with their own unique charged attacks and the ability to clear certain obstacles, you had a wide complement of spells to play with - some useful (like restoring HP or paralyzing enemies), some necessary to proceed (telepathy, flight, transformation). The story was also pretty unique for its time, taking place not in a medieval fantasy world, but a post-apocalyptic future, with elements seemingly culled from Studio Ghibli's works (most particularly Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind). There's even a pretty clever twist or two stemming from your character's ambiguous past which I shan't spoil here - this is a game that must be played to be fully appreciated.
7. Castlevania (Konami, 1987)
Perhaps the most well known Konami franchise for its sheer prevalence, and it all began with this gem. Well, technically it began on the MSX with "Vampire Killer", but this is the one everybody remembers, largely because it was so damn impressive for its time. Heavily detailed graphics, an excellent soundtrack, and gameplay that walked the fine line between being a ton of fun and very challenging - perfectly timed attacks and movement were the order of the day here. Particularly because your hero's weapon was somewhat unwieldy compared to most video game weapons and there was a short delay between pressing the button and landing a hit. Still, it was all worth it just to say you persevered through the challenge and beat up horror icons like the creature from the black lagoon, Frankenstein's monster, the mummy, and even the grim reaper himself. Oh, and Dracula, of course.
6. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: The Manhattan Project (Konami, 1992)
A home console exclusive followup to Konami's smash hit arcade game (and its resulting home port), TMNT 3 ups the ante even further than its impressive predecessor. Not only were the graphics and music some of the best the system ever produced, but the gameplay got some tightening up as well, giving the four turtles unique "super attacks" and adding a huge variety of new enemies to the game. They even worked in a ton of new boss characters from both the cartoon and movies - Tokka, Rahzar, Dirtbag, Leatherhead... hell, even Super Shredder shows up as the final boss, giving everyone a proper fight after his disappointing demise in the second movie. Not only is this one of the best beat-em-ups ever produced, but one of the best two player co-op experiences to ever exist, period.
5. Kirby's Adventure (HAL, 1993)
A followup to the Game Boy hit Kirby's Dream Land, its sequel was a huge step forward for the series, as it introduced Kirby's iconic power to swallow certain enemies and acquire entirely new sets of powers in doing so. There are a ton of them in the game, too - from turning into a wheel and running over enemies to swinging chains of sparks to spitting fire. It certainly added a lot more variety to the gameplay, as well as some clever stage designs and tons of new bosses to fight. A very fun game that also featured arguably the best graphics on the system. I mean, just look at that screenshot - it's good enough to be an early SNES game, and on a system that was eight years old at the time!
4. Mega Man 3 (Capcom, 1990)
Generally considered the best game in the Mega Man series, and it's not hard to see why - it kept all of the improvements from Mega Man 2 and added in several new ones of its own. Most notably, you have a slide move now, which allows you to squeeze through narrow gaps and evade attacks from enemies that would normally clip you at head height or so. Gone are the impersonal "Items" from Mega Man 2, replaced by Rush the robo-dog who can transform into three forms - a springboard, a submarine and a fully controllable jet platform. There are even some clever twists to the overall design, including remixed versions of earlier levels with tougher layouts and having you rematch with all of Mega Man 2's robot masters (sort of). Not to mention some top-notch visuals and music and the introduction of fan favorite character Protoman...
3. Metroid (Nintendo, 1987)
The genesis of another legendary Nintendo franchise and an equally legendary genre, Metroid was notable at the time for its large world and gameplay that was almost completely open-ended - rather than giving you a set goal and a linear stage to progress through to reach it, you were pretty much just left to explore a giant enemy-laden labyrinth and discover its secrets yourself. A pretty daunting thing in an era before in-game maps were the norm. Thankfully, Metroid delivered enough content to keep players engaged for a good, long time with its eerie organic environments and a well-composed soundtrack that only made the in-game world all the more unsettling. Better yet, once you were used to the game it had five different variations for the ending screen, challenging players to complete the game in progressively shorter times to see them all. This could be considered the forefather to the whole speedrunning community!
2. The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo, 1987)
The original game of the Legend of Zelda series, a franchise which has brought us some of the greatest action-adventure titles of all time. Oh, and it's also a really good game in its own right. Like Metroid, this was a nonlinear adventure where the player was largely left to their own devices. However, instead of hunting down three boss monsters across a massive in-game environment, you were now diving into dungeons, collecting magic items and uncovering hidden caches of money to upgrade your character, collect the eight Triforce pieces and defeat Ganon. The sheer scope and variety the game had to offer was unprecedented for 1987, and you weren't even allowed to rest yet once you'd finally found everything and slain Ganon - no sir, this game had a second quest that moved everything around and introduced many bosses much sooner, giving it a much greater challenge than the original game, and completing it is a badge of honor and a rite of passage to die-hard gamerdom. Zelda is a true masterpiece.
1. Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo, 1990)
Yeah, you guessed it before this list even began, having likely seen it cap off dozens of other Top NES games lists as well. Well, there's a good reason why it continually tops such lists, and that's because it's sheer genius compressed into a cartridge; it takes everything that made the original Super Mario Bros. great and expands it tenfold. A huge variety of stages including sky worlds, a giant world, pipe mazes and stages that span both underwater and land segments? Check. Amazing graphics and sounds? Check. New powerups that enable unprecedented powers like flying, fast swimming and slaying previously invincible enemies? Yep. There's even a few entertaining minigames thrown in for good measure, including a card-matching game that earns you powerups and a competitive two player mode that allows you to swipe cards from the other player. So yes, there is a very good reason it's widely considered not only the best game on the system, but the unmatched king of the platformer genre over twenty years after its release, rivaled perhaps only by later games in the series like Super Mario World, Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy...