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Top 111 NES Games, #111-101

 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 this 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's heyday are considered. That means no pirates, ROM hacks, bootlegs of unreleased titles or contemporary homebrews are eligible.

111. A Boy and His Blob: Trouble on Blobolonia (Absolute Entertainment, 1989)

A game made by a couple of Atari Alumni (Garry Kitchen and David Crane), and it carried on their standards for quality and surprising depth despite a relatively simple concept.  As the title implies, you play as the unnamed boy and are accompanied by his friend, a blob who shapeshifts into different forms when you feed him jellybeans, usually with some kind of pun tying them together.  Apple jellybeans turn him into a hydraulic jack, while Punch will turn him into a hole you can fall through, for example.   Using both characters in tandem, you maneuver around a series of danger-laden caves underneath your local subway station in search of treasure, trade that in for vitamins, then blast off to Planet Blobolonia to free it from a tyrannical king.  Weird concept for sure, but surprisingly well-executed and fun.  It even had enough of a fan following to get a Game Boy sequel and a modern reboot by WayForward, so it did something right.

110. Duck Hunt (Nintendo, 1985)

Another one that I think everybody's played; in no small part because almost all of them got it with the system, either on a two-cart with Super Mario Bros. or on a three-cart that also included World Class Track Meet.  To most of us, it was also our first exposure to a light gun peripheral - the Zapper, which detected targets by blanking out the screen for a brief moment and then flashing a bright spot where the targets were to register hits.  Duck Hunt has three modes - one duck, two ducks and clay pigeon shooting, and of course, nobody will ever forget that dog, who taunts you every time you miss a duck or waste all your bullets each round.  The game is a little one-note, but it's a fun and addictive little game.  Sadly we never got a home port of the arcade version, VS Duck Hunt, which cycled through game modes between rounds and even had an exclusive bonus round (where you could get revenge on the dog at long last if you didn't mind losing points).

109. Dig-Dug (Namco, 1985 in Japan)

Another popular arcade title that got ported to just about every platform under the sun, and for good reason.  Well, almost - it was conspicuously absent on the NES in North America despite getting ports to both the Famicom and the Disk System in Japan (though we did get Dig Dug II... blech).  A bit of a shame, as like Galaga and Pac-Man, it's a fine conversion that plays nearly identically to its arcade counterpart.  The objective is simple enough - clear each screen of enemies - but it's made more complicated by the fact that you must dig your way through the dirt to create paths for them to follow, which can then be utilized to set up traps for them - dropping a rock on one or more enemies at a time will rack up serious points.  However, they will also occasionally turn into a ghostly form and pass through walls to get to you more quickly, so you must stay on your toes.  A fun and addictive little game.

108. Popeye (Nintendo, 1985)

Nintendo adapted Popeye into an arcade game in 1982, and managed to capture the chaotic energy of the cartoon surprisingly well in gameplay - you try to save Olive Oyl by collecting various icons (changing up in each stage), avoid bouncing skulls thrown by the Sea Hag and Brutus constantly antagonizing you; however, you can drop a barrel on his head to incapacitate him temporarily or  collect spinach to knock him around for some bonus points.  The NES port is a surprisingly faithful one too, keeping all three screens from the arcade version and the gameplay mostly intact (though toned down slightly in difficulty, at least in the earlier rounds) and in all honesty I kinda prefer it to Nintendo's breakout arcade hit Donkey Kong.  Oddly there was also a Famicom game called "Popeye no Eigo Asobi" wherein Popeye would teach English words, but that one never got localized.  We did get Donkey Kong Jr. Math though; yay....

107. The Goonies (Konami, 1986 in Japan)

A lot of gamers in the late '80s thought it a bit strange that there was a Goonies II game, but there wasn't ever a Goonies I.  Well, there was, but it never got a cartridge release in North America (though it did appear as a Vs. System game and on a few Playchoice-10 arcade units).  It's a fairly short, stage-based game where you play as Mikey and are out to rescue the other Goonies, but that wasn't a bad thing when it was well-made and fun.  You get quite a few creative powerups throughout, both temporary (slingshot powerups, health potions) and more useful ones - Headphones to block the Fratelli brothers' bad singing, fireproof suits and raincoats.  Sort of a midpoint between the definitive-ending era of games and the old looping arcade action titles.

106. VS Excitebike (Nintendo, 1988 in Japan, FDS)

Excitebike is one of the more popular early NES games, mostly remembered for its editor that allowed players to build and race on their own custom tracks (though not save them - the peripheral that allowed it was never brought over and Nintendo never implemented an alternate option).  I did consider including it on the list, but after playing the Famicom Disk System exclusive VS. Excitebike, I can't do it in good conscience.  The quality contrast between the two versions is night and day - VS Excitebike includes a more exciting single-player mode (having to qualify for time in a solo run before you're allowed to run a race against the CPU, plus truck-jumping bonus stages), two player competitive play, music during gameplay, and the ability to save custom tracks directly to the disk.  It's criminal that this version was never localized until the Wii U rolled around, as it makes the original game look terrible by comparison!

105. 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, rush for the panic POW block when things get too crazy... 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!

(There is also an enhanced advertisement-laden update on the Disk System called "Kaettekita Mario Bros" if that's your sort of thing.)

104. Rygar (Tecmo, 1987)

Rygar was a pretty decent hit in the arcades, with fast paced sidescrolling combat and a uniquely weird Greek mythology inspired setting.  The NES game of the same name was a very different beast, though, taking the same basic setting and storyline but changing up its gameplay into a nonlinear Zelda-styled adventure.  In fact, it actually predated Zelda's release in North America by about a month, so technically this was the very first game of its type on the NES.  Fittingly, the game works in a fair number of RPG elements - there are spells to cast, defeating enemies gradually boosts your "Tone" (attack power) and "Last" (health), and throughout the game you gain new items that grant you access to new areas - a grappling hook to climb to higher ledges, a "wind pulley" to cross gaps, and potions of health, among others.  Boss fights also appear throughout, and the gods themselves appear in numerous hidden rooms to give you advice.  It's even got some pretty detailed graphics and solid music for the time period.  A relatively early NES adventure, but one still well worth visiting.

103. Galaga: Demons of Death (Namco, 1988)

An arcade smash for sure, Galaga (here given the extraneous subtitle "Demons of Death" for no particular reason) is just pure fun - blast aliens, avoid their increasingly aggressive movement and firing patterns, and shoot for a high score.  Having your ship captured and then freeing it to control two ships at once and get double the firepower was also a pretty awesome feature for the time, and the sparse-but-catchy music and spacey sound effects perfectly immerse you in the atmosphere.  The NES version is a nearly perfect copy of the arcade game with few frills, but with a game this classic, that's no bad thing in my book.

102. Klax (Atari, 1990)

The title screen of this one proudly proclaims that "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 managing the chaos and staying alive quickly becomes a challenge.  Better get good at matching up those diagonal Klaxes and setting up combos!

101. Swords & Serpents (Interplay, 1990)

A lot of early PC dungeon crawlers got NES ports, though their execution was often not the greatest; whether due to prominent bugs (Might and Magic, Wizardry), a substantially downgraded presentation (Bard's Tale) or just dragging pacing in general.  Swords & Serpents is one not based on an existing computer game, but rather an entirely original offering, and they did a good job taking advantage of the NES's capabilities rather than working against them.  The unsettling atmospheric music and grotesque monster graphics definitely aided with that, as did an uncomplicated UI and even an onscreen minimap to aid in navigation.  Also unique among dungeon crawlers on the platform, this one is multiplayer, supporting up to four players via the NES Satellite or Four Score.  It is a bit of a pain to save your game and come back later (there are FIVE passwords to keep track of - one tracking your progress through the dungeon and one for each of your four characters), but Swords and Serpents is nonetheless a fun time for RPG dorks.