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Top 50 NES Games, #40-31

40. RC Pro Am 2 (Rare, 1992)

The original RC Pro Am was revered as a great racer at the time it came out, and rightfully so; it blended arcade-styled challenge with sharp graphics and the ever-present fun of blowing up your opponents with land mines and missiles to overtake the lead. Hell, it was practically an early predecessor to Nintendo's long-running Mario Kart franchise. RC Pro Am II managed to be even better, upping the challenge and visuals, adding in a four-player mode and introducing a more intuitive shop system for car upgrades, but sadly not many people noticed it as it came out well after the SNES had already debuted...

39. Ninja Gaiden (Tecmo, 1988)

The first in a legendary NES trilogy, Ninja Gaiden quickly became as well-known for its high production budget and gripping storyline (a rarity at the time) as for its absurd difficulty - enemy patterns start off relatively manageable, but quickly become downright vicious, requiring spot-on execution with jumps, attacks and special weapons to even have a chance of seeing it through to the end.  To say nothing of the final boss gauntlet, which also requires strict adherence to a pattern and punishes the player for death by sending them all the way back to the beginning of the stage.  Still, those who could persevere found a game worthy of hanging with the best in the action genre even now, almost thirty years after its original release.

38. Shadowgate (ICOM, 1989)

The third and final game in what's affectionately called the ICOM Trilogy, and it's definitely the most iconic and memorable of the three. This is in no small part due to its fantastic soundtrack that perfectly complements the haunting atmosphere of the game's environment - a booby trap laden castle populated by all manner of evil beasts and puzzles to solve. The solutions to the puzzles can be a bit opaque (you must use the spear on the troll in order to get across the bridge - nothing else will work) or even downright silly at times (throwing a star you got off a map to kill a wyvern...?), but it's nevertheless an engrossing experience with some very clever storytelling throughout. Oh, and don't forget to collect any torches you find - if yours ever burns out, it's an immediate game over!

37. Mr. Gimmick! (Sunsoft, 1992 in Japan, 1993 in Europe)

Another very overlooked game, though I can't blame people for that because the game only saw an extremely limited release in exactly two regions - Japan and Scandinavia - in the twilight days of the system. It's a real shame it didn't get a wider release, too, as this may just be the most impressive game on the system on a technical level. Not only were the sights and sounds top notch, but the programming here is superb - objects actually actually slide down slopes and ricochet off objects realistically and enemies show a modicum of artificial intelligence, backstepping to evade your attacks and attempting to trap you in tight spaces when given half a chance. It's also surprisingly tough for such a cutesy-looking game, requiring you to master the finer points of the physics and your bouncing star weapon (which can also double as a platform when jumped upon) in order to collect all the hidden treasures and reach the best ending. Oh, and did I mention you can't use any continues either? ...Yeah, if you want that ending, you're going to WORK for it!

36. Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels (Nintendo, 1986 in Japan)

The "real" Super Mario Bros. 2, unreleased in North America for many years because of Nintendo's fears that it would be too difficult for North American gamers and that people would reject it for being too similar in appearance and gameplay to the original. Well, their fears weren't entirely unfounded, because the game is tough as nails; with some new mechanics like winds that push you around, piranha plants that no longer fear the player, and warp zones that take you backwards instead of forwards, as well as some truly sadistic stage design, it's a real challenge to complete. Oh, and there are also five hidden worlds to explore with some downright insane unlock conditions, which only keeps you coming back for even more punishment. That said, those who can endure its monstrous challenge are in for a rewarding experience.

35. 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.

34. The Adventures of Lolo trilogy (HAL, 1989, 1990 and 1992)

Spawned from the Japanese puzzle game series "Eggerland", Adventures of Lolo had a trilogy of games on the NES before fading into obscurity. Which is a shame, because they're all quite good games with well designed puzzles and some clever gameplay mechanics. As they all have very similar mechanics, visuals and music, I've decided to lump all three together under one heading. But if I had to pick one over the others, Lolo 3 would win out for adding in not only tougher puzzles, but a touch of non-linearity as well - there is actually an overworld this time, enabling you to do dungeons in any order you wish (to an extent - you'll still have to complete some dungeons in order to unlock others). There's even boss fights at the end of each dungeon now, giving the game some action-oriented variety instead of just room after room of puzzle solving.

33. Mega Man 4 (Capcom, 1992)

Mega Man 4 had a tough act to follow after the runaway successes of the second and third games in the series, but it managed to distinguish itself remarkably well. Returning the series to its difficult roots while retaining its improvements, the game also implemented a couple of other interesting features. Notably side-paths in some stages that led to new usable items and a new gameplay feature in the form of the Mega Buster, wherein Mega Man could now hold down the B button to fire a stronger charged shot that could pulverize weaker enemies and inflict more damage to bosses. There were some cheap deaths in places and a few instances of spotty hit detection, but all in all Mega Man 4 proved to be another worthy Mega Man game for the ages.

32. Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos (Tecmo, 1990)

The followup to the smash hit Ninja Gaiden and in several ways its superior. Enemy respawning is a bit more manageable this time (they actually have to be offscreen now, not just close to the edge) and the hellish million-enemies-a-minute stages toward the end of the game are considerably less intense, though still very difficult. Best of all, though, you don't have to redo the entire final stage upon dying at the final gauntlet (though it still sends you back a fair distance). But by far the most well remembered feature is your new weapon - the shadow clones. Up to two of these guys can follow you and will mimic your every move and attack, albeit they will trail a bit behind you as you move around. When positioned properly they can be downright deadly, enabling you to rip through bosses in mere seconds while remaining relatively safe yourself. A clever feature to be sure, and it only makes it all the more impressive when skilled players give the game a run. Oh, and the music kicks ass too.

31. Maniac Mansion (Lucasarts, 1990)

One of my all time favorite adventure games to this day, Maniac Mansion was certainly a unique experience. Starring three high school kids (Dave and two others chosesn by the player) as they attempt to save Dave's girlfriend from a mad scientist, it brought to the table a uniquely quirky sense of humor as well as some great visuals and some of the best music the NES platform ever produced. But more than that, it brought something to the table that few adventure games before or since have - replay value. For you see, the characters you choose for the adventure not only have a profound difference on the way you solve the game's various puzzles, but there are also eleven possible endings to the game depending on your character choices and actions. Sure, some of the more adult aspects of the game got censored from the PC ports (much to the chagrin of the developers), but this version is still my favorite of all.

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