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2/28/2016

Top 50 NES games, #50-41

What can one even say about the NES?  It was the quintessential game system of the 80s, single-handedly reviving a dying console market thanks to its colorful high-resolution graphics, tight controls and high-quality titles.  And now, after many years of scouring game shops, thrift stores and the giant internet game shop/thrift store known as eBay, I think I can at last declare my collection complete.  So in celebration, I'm going to be giving a shout-out to all of my picks for the platform's best titles.

For the purposes of list, I've imposed only two rules: The games must still be fun to play today, and only games which were commercially released during the NES' heyday are considered.  That means no pirates, ROM hacks, bootlegs of unreleased titles or contemporary homebrews are eligible.

But first, a few more titles that, while good, didn't quite make the list.

50. Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985)

The original Mario Bros. one gets a lot of flak from retro and modern gamers alike, and I'm really not sure why. Sure, it hasn't aged quite as well as the legendary sidescrolling platformers that succeeded it, but it's still a pretty entertaining game in its own right. Bump enemies, dodge fireballs and icy floors, collect coins, shove player two into that enraged shellcreeper coming for your blood... what's not to love here? It's easily among the best of the black box era games, if nothing else. Hell, it even spawned a pretty fun little two-player competitive minigame in Super Mario Bros. 3, so it must be good!





49. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Konami, 1989)

One of the best-selling games on the platform in its heyday. Nowadays opinions on it are heavily mixed, with some still loving it for its unique brand of action and others decrying it for its overly difficult stages, unclear goals, and having little to do with the cartoon series it was based on. Honestly though, I think it holds up relatively well. There's some pretty good stage design here, with big city maps to explore, randomized enemy layouts to contend with, and the occasional variety stage thrown in (like the infamous dam stage where you have a little over 2 minutes to defuse numerous bombs while evading deadly seaweed). Having four playable characters with their own unique style of gameplay was also pretty innovative for the time, even if it was somewhat poorly balanced (Donatello rules everything, having both the longest range AND doing the most damage). Many of the later stages do get excessively difficult, but honestly, I think that's part of the appeal - this is a game you have to be prepared for in order to come out on top, even if that means replaying the early stages several times in order to get a feel for the later ones. But once you know where to find all the powerups and how to exploit loopholes in the enemies' AI, you can beat this game in under an hour, no problem. Good, solid old school challenge.

48. Paperboy 2 (Tengen, 1992)

Paperboy doesn't sound like the stuff of great gaming in text, but it quickly became a favorite among gamers for its relatively simple concept and off-the-wall gameplay, having the player's relatively mundane job put him in conflict with everything from neighborhood dogs to speeding cars to angry neighbors to remote control toys to ghosts and the grim reaper himself. Paperboy 2 is very much in the same book, but now there's more of it - two blocks to traverse per day, with a plethora of new hazards to avoid, even getting into silly territory with some houses sporting graveyards complete with ghosts and others being literal fortresses firing cannons across the street for... some reason. I don't get it, but I don't question it either. It's all a bit silly, but nevertheless, Paperboy 2 is even more of a good thing, and it's hard to go wrong with that.

47. Dr. Mario (Nintendo, 1988)

While I'm not a big fan of competitive puzzle games, there's no denying that Dr. Mario has that good old addictive charm to it. There's a true sense of frantic challenge as you try to clear an entire screen of colored viruses, trying not to let your pills fall in the wrong place and create obstacles that will take a significant amount of time and effort to clear (and probably gum up your efforts even more as you do so). Hell, there was even a two-player competitive mode, which couldn't be said for Nintendo's version of Tetris. I also both praise and curse it for having one of the catchiest tunes in all of gaming; I first played this game over twenty years ago and I still have that damn Fever tune stuck in my head...


46. Bubble Bobble Part II (Taito, 1993)

Not to be confused with the relatively common "Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble II", Bubble Bobble Part 2 is one of the infamous "Taito Four", a set of four Taito-published games that were released late in the NES' lifespan in extremely limited quantities, and as a result now command outrageous prices online; it's not uncommon to see each one selling for upwards of $200. A shame in this one's case, as it's an update of Bubble Bobble with improved visuals and music and the same addictive gameplay qualities that made the original a hit. There are even boss battles added in every twenty stages and minigames that can be played to earn extra lives, giving it a slight Mario-esque feel as well. The only real letdown is the two player mode, which no longer allows for two players to take on levels simultaneously - instead you're stuck alternating turns whenever one player dies. Still, Bubble Bobble Part II is a beautiful game and very fun to play, and well worth checking out if you can get your hands on it.

45. Deja Vu: A Nightmare Comes True! (ICOM, 1990)

The second of the so-called "ICOM Trilogy" for the NES, Deja Vu was a slightly more realistic take on the point-and-click adventure genre. As an amnesiac framed for murder, it falls to you to recover your memories, clear your name and uncover the real culprits behind the crime. As with the other two games in the series, some puzzle solutions are a bit obtuse and it's possible to get stuck in an unwinnable state if you're not careful, but the solid, atmospheric soundtrack and tense narrative make it an unforgettable experience regardless. It's just a pity that Deja Vu's sequel was never released on the NES; however, it did eventually get a Game Boy Color port in late 1999.



44. Ducktales (Capcom, 1990)

Capcom created numerous licensed games in the NES and SNES era, many of which hold up surprisingly well to this day. By far the most fondly remembered, however, has to be Ducktales. Far from being a linear platformer, Ducktales features five large stages to explore, each with numerous hidden secrets to find, including two hidden treasures worth over a million dollars apiece. Finding them all was more than just a side-venture, though - it was a necessity to get the game's best ending, which required you having a score of over $10,000,000 by the time you completed the final stage. Having top-notch graphics and music per Capcom standards certainly didn't hurt its appeal either. All in all, a short but sweet adventure.


43. Uninvited (ICOM, 1991)

The second of the legendary "ICOM Trilogy" for the NES, and it's a good one alright. A horror-themed point and click adventure game that has you exploring a haunted mansion in search of your sister, it was also notable for featuring some surprisingly gruesome scenes for an NES game. The animation is minimal at best, but the well-written narrative, atmospheric music and tense, dark story kept you engrossed throughout. It all makes me glad the point-and-click adventure genre is finally getting the revival it deserves in more modern times - younger gamers really were missing out on something special.



42. Klax (Atari, 1990)

"It is the nineties and there is time for Klax!"  Well, the nineties are long gone, but Klax is still around and just as fun to play as ever.  A clever little tile-matching puzzle game in the vein of Dr. Mario, but with a slight twist - instead of simply clearing tiles from the screen, you're given objectives to fulfill - survive a set number of tiles, get a set number of Klaxes or diagonal Klaxes, earn a certain number of points, and so on.  All while trying to manage space on a small 5x5 playing field and maintaining a stack of up to five tiles on your paddle; drop three or fill up the field without a match, and your game is over.  It starts out simple enough, but staying alive quickly becomes a challenge.  Better get good at matching up those diagonal Klaxes and setting up combos!

41. Balloon Fight (Nintendo, 1986)

It's Joust mixed with Joust and a dash of Joust on top. Well, okay, it's not a complete copy of Williams' classic arcade game; the hit detection is a bit more specific this time, requiring you to actually contact an opponent's balloons to break them rather than simply be a few pixels above them when you collide. There are also hazards like lightning, spinning bumpers and giant fish trying to eat you to impede your progress. There's also a new gameplay mode, "Balloon Trip", where the object is to make it as far as you can before you hit an electrified bumper or get eaten by a fish. It's one of the better early NES games and among the first to feature two player simultaneous play as well. So derivative it may be, but it's also quite a lot of fun.


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