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Top 120 NES Games, #12-1

12. 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.

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!

10. 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!

9. River City Ransom (Technos, 1990)

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.

8. 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.

7. Maniac Mansion (Lucasarts, 1990)

My all time favorite adventure game 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.

6. Startropics (Nintendo, 1990)

A game which was famously made by a Japanese development team but never released in Japan, Startropics is something like a modernized Zelda game. In between navigating dungeons laden with enemies, deathtraps and puzzles were overworld segments that told Mike's story as he explored the southern islands in search of his missing uncle, who was abducted by the alien overlord Zoda. Your weapons were also given a modern twist, ranging from yo-yos to baseball bats to throwing stars and, in later stages, alien ray guns. Perhaps its only true drawback was the game's insane difficulty, particularly in the later stages where bosses could kill you in as little as one hit. Still it's, a unique, quirky game that's quite a lot of fun to play through even today.

5. Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo, 1985)

Widely credited as the game that single-handedly saved console gaming, and it's not an inaccurate description - at the time, people were losing faith in video game consoles thanks to a growing influx of lousy half-assed titles and moving en masse to relatively inexpensive computer games instead. Then Nintendo's new console came along, bringing with it a well designed, fun, colorful platformer with some challenging stages and a wide variety of enemies and secrets to discover. It became a runaway hit overnight, pushed Nintendo to the forefront of the gaming consciousness and continues to sell well to this day across various formats, only recently being upstaged as the best selling game of all time by Wii Sports. So yeah, not only was it instrumental in pulling console gaming out of its rut, it set the standard for every platforming game to come, and one could argue it also led to the invention of non-linear, secret laden platforming games like Metroid. If you haven't played this one and loved it, then turn in your gamer card immediately - you don't deserve to call yourself one.

4. 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!

3. 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...

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...