Check out my other site, RPGreats, for honest RPG reviews!

11/02/2021

Top 120 NES Games, #120-109

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.

120. 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.

119. 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).

118. 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.

117. 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.

116. Sqoon (Irem, 1986)

Shoot-em-up style games were already a pretty well known genre well before the NES hit the scene, and it continued to get quite a few throughout its life, with a lot of them being unremarkable ports of arcade games with pretty basic gameplay and minimal variation, so I tend to glance over a lot of them.  Sqoon is a relatively early one for the NES, but its design is anything but basic - there's quite a lot of mechanics that you'll have to juggle to get far.  There are the usual waves of giant enemies to blast away for points, but other sea life appears too - orcas are harmless to you, but will eat up any people you blast free by bombing buildings, crabs drop gold bricks you can collect and turn in for points, and the odd sea slug will drop a magical necklace if you bomb it enough times, which grants a 1-up and a chance at a bonus stage. In between all of this, you'll have to free captured humans, touch them to bring them aboard, and once you have nine of them, drop them off on the "floating island" that appears (one by one, with the B button), which is the only way to replenish your constantly dwindling oxygen supply and gain powerups to upgrade your weapons.  The aforementioned gold serves as a more efficient means of doing this - all you need is one live human and a gold brick to get the island to appear again, though this will only refill your oxygen and not upgrade your weapons (which makes it a better option when you've already hit max upgrade).  Sqoon is chaotic and outlandish even by shmup standards, but undeniably unique and quite a lot of fun once you get into the swing of it.

115. 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.

114. Marble Madness (Atari/Rare, 1989)

Marble Madness is a hugely popular arcade classic; so much so that virtually every system of the time got a port at one time or another.  Rare handled the NES port and did an excellent job, maintaining the fluid gameplay and solid presentation of the arcade version despite the lack of a trackball.  The goal is simply to get to the goal, but of course, it's never as easy as it sounds.  All sorts of enemies and hazards will try to knock you off course or eat your marble, and you're on a very strict time limit - not just for each stage, but for the whole game, so saving every second you can quickly becomes key to success.  But if you want even more of a challenge, start up the multiplayer mode and try to make it to the end while keeping pace with somebody on controller two!

113. Lode Runner / Super Lode Runner (Hudson Soft, 1984-1987)

Lode Runner is a classic computer game that saw ports to numerous platforms (and continues to get them today).  The NES had a port of its own, but the Famicom got another (a port of Championship Lode Runner - a collection of extremely difficult fan-made levels) and the Famicom Disk System had two more still - enhanced versions with redone graphics and sound, new levels and scoring mechanics called 'Super Lode Runner'.  No matter which one you played, though, its good arcade action with a touch of strategy - having to outmaneuver or trap enemies while you gathered up all the gold in the stage was a surprisingly difficult endeavor at times, though in the FDS games, it was at least a challenge you could tackle with a friend at your side.

112. Kyatto Ninden Teyandee (Tecmo, 1991 in Japan)

If you watched a lot of cartoons in the '90s, you might remember Samurai Pizza Cats - a dub/recut of the Japanese anime "Kyatto Ninden Teyandee" that ramped up the silly humor to the nth degree.  I also got into emulation around that time, which led me to learn that there was a game tie-in to the show, so it quickly became one of the very first Famicom games I emulated.  It does a good job recreating the feel of the show, with animated cutscenes between stages and before boss fights, several recognizable characters as bosses and recreating most of the protagonists' iconic special moves.  Even the Rescue Squad appears, allowing you to traverse various obstacles the main cast can't - punching through blocks, tunneling through dirt, swimming through the water at great speed or even flying for short distances.  While not an amazing game on its own, the fact that it captures the feel of the show so well and has such nostalgic factor will always earn it some points in my book.

111. 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) 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!

110. 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!

109. 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.)