20. Ms. Pac Man (General Computer Corporation/Bally Midway/Tengen, 1989)
19. Batman (Sunsoft, 1989)
Another example of not only a great action game on the NES, but a great movie-based game as well. ...Well, okay, I don't remember the giant clawed mutants, the jetpack guy, the factory with massive exposed electrical conduits or the Joker being able to throw lightning from the movie, but you know what? it's still a damn fun game with great graphics, amazing music, spot-on controls and a lot of challenges to overcome. Not to mention some innovative mechanics - this is the first game I can think of that featured a wall jump, which added a unique twist to navigating the levels. It also strikes just the right balance of difficulty, being tough enough to keep you engaged but not so much that you quit in frustration. Definitely my favorite game from the Sunsoft camp.
18. Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo, 1988)
As alluded to in my earlier mention of "SMB2j", There's a little bit of controversy surrounding this one. Nintendo decided the "real" SMB2 was too difficult and similar to the original, so they took another game titled "Yume Kojo Doki Doki Panic" - an unrelated Arabian-themed platformer created for a Japanese festival - and retooled it into a Mario game. Confusing, to say the least. But hey, it's an excellent platformer with a lot of polish over its counterpart (adding more frames of animation to nearly everything and significantly revamped mechanics) and and introduced several new mechanics to the series, including vertical-scrolling levels (pretty innovative for 1988), picking up and throwing of items to defeat enemies, and even some clever stage design elements like sinking logs and riding enemy projectiles to faraway parts of the level in order to proceed. Clean, colorful, varied visuals for a 1988 game was also a pretty rare thing to behold.
17. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (Nintendo, 1988)
Probably the most controversial entry in the Zelda franchise (excluding the CDi games, of course), as it underwent a complete change in gameplay style from an overhead adventure game with an emphasis on puzzle solving to something more akin to a sidescrolling action-RPG. But you know what? That's no bad thing in my book. There's a lot of content here for a 1988 game, with a large secret-laden overworld to explore, numerous giant bosses to conquer and even six well designed dungeons to venture through. The sidescrolling perspective also makes for much more busy and intense combat - you'll be blocking spears and rocks with your shield and constantly ducking, jumping and slashing to evade attacks and sneak past an enemy's guard. Hell, even the new magic system adds a bold new dimension to the gameplay - careful magic management is key to not only navigating the numerous dungeon obstacles, but surviving fights against the big bosses at the end. Honestly, the only real fault I find with the game is the somewhat uneven difficulty - over the course of the game, you'll often go straight from a relatively easy dungeon to a hellishly tough one with no prior warning of that fact (most notable early on where you venture from a relatively simple swamp area to Death Mountain, a giant maze laden with much tougher enemies than you've seen so far). But hell, it's still a groundbreaking game with a unique mesh of gameplay styles for its time, and were it not for this game's success, we may never have seen classic games like Cave Story, Symphony of the Night or Dust: An Elysian Tail get made...
16. Bubble Bobble (Taito, 1988)
A picture-perfect port of a bizarre but undeniably addictive arcade game, Bubble Bobble stars two dinosaurs who blow bubbles to entrap enemies, then pop them and turn them into fruit, which can then be collected for bonus points. Popping more at once results in larger fruits that give more points. Yeah, it's weird. But hell, it's great fun, especially given the large number of powerup items the game provides - everything from upgrading your characters' attack range and movement speed to allowing you to spew fire to calling down lightning bolts to wipe out everything onscreen at once. I hope you've got a second player, too, because having two players alive and well at the end of the final fight is the only way to see the real ending. Honestly, this game's only weakness is the lone music track, which you're going to get pretty tired of after 112 stages...
15. Gun-Nac (Compile, 1991)
Another fantastic game that got widely overlooked since the SNES was the hottest thing on the scene at the time. Gun-Nac is essentially an upgraded Zanac with colorful high resolution graphics, fast paced gameplay and a ton of weapon variety, from flamethrowers to laser beams to homing missiles. Unusually for a western NES game, it was heavily steeped in the elements of its Japanese roots - characters and cutscenes retained their manga-esque style and bosses included things like a giant robotic rabbit that shoots homing missile carrots and even a maneki-neko. It's a little surreal to have a spaceship fighting a giant cat holding a gold coin, sure, but that's honestly one of the things I like about it - it's not afraid to be wacky. A formula Konami would also use to great success in their Parodius franchise (and to a lesser extent, Masuya and their Cho Aniki franchise...).
14. Contra (Konami, 1988)
Ask any NES fan what one of their favorite games growing up was and Contra is almost certain to be on that list. Because honestly, there is no denying that this game kicks ass. Two players running around blowing up aliens and traversing a variety of clever stages including climbing up a waterfall, evading bombs tossed in from the background on a snowy field, and even wandering inside a giant alien's guts to destroy its beating heart? What's not to love about that? Well, the difficulty, perhaps, since you're given only three lives and two continues. But it's not even that much of a bother since the controls and mechanics in the game are so solid; you just have to get some practice in and you can beat the game with little trouble.
13. Tetris: The Soviet Mind Game (Atari, 1990)
Another game surrounded by controversy upon its release, as it was produced and sold by Tengen months ahead of Nintendo and Bullet Proof Software's "official" versions despite the fact that Tengen did not legally have the rights to sell an NES conversion. This led to a lengthy lawsuit between Nintendo and Tengen and resulted in the game quickly being pulled from shelves, turning it into a rare collector's item overnight. Remarkably, though, this game is superior to Nintendo and Bullet Proof Software's versions for one big reason: two player support! Not only does it feature a competitive mode, but there's even a clever cooperative mode where both players drop pieces into the same field at the same time. Now how in the world did Nintendo forget to include that in their version?
12. Mega Man 2 (Capcom, 1989)
The game that put Capcom on the map and made them into an unstoppable gaming juggernaut for over twenty years, Mega Man 2 was downright jaw-dropping at the time of its release for its colorful graphics, tight gameplay and fantastic music, all of which greatly expanded upon its predecessor. It was also considerably more friendly to a younger audience, as it now featured a password system and energy tanks that ensured you wouldn't have to conquer the whole thing in one go (or defeat every boss in one life bar). It was only onward and upward from here for the Blue Bomber for the better part of the next decade!
11. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (Nintendo, 1987)
A game that was a damn impressive sight for 1987, with gigantic character sprites that featured fluid animation. The NES isn't normally capable of featuring such large sprites without massive flicker and slowdown, but Nintendo found a way - by adding a special chip in the cart called the MMC2 (Memory Management Controller 2) that allowed for much more graphical power. Oh, and the game's a lot of fun, of course. Essentially it's a a puzzle-based action game, wherein you must quickly block, duck and dodge your opponent's punches and time your counterattacks in order to land hits on them. Well-timed hits can also earn you stars (which enable a hard-hitting hook punch) or even knock the enemy down in one blow. All the while, you also have to be mindful of your heart counter - every time you take a hit or block an attack, your hearts will deplete, and when they're completely emptied, you become tired and cannot block or attack until you dodge several consecutive attacks to get your wind back. It's a test of lightning fast reflexes and pattern memorization, and defeating the game's final challenger (Iron Mike himself) will require you to be an ace at both!