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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. Pooyan (Hudson Soft/Konami, 1985 in Japan)

An arcade shooter by Konami which definitely has an interesting concept and some creative gameplay twists.  You play as a pig named "Mama" and fend off wolves trying to raid your home and abduct your children.  In the first round they float down from the top of the tree and you try to shoot down their ballons before they hit the ground, but in the second round it's the opposite - they try to float up and push a rock on top of you.  Either way, you have to hit their balloons to take them out (arrows just bounce off them) while avoiding being hit by their thrown rocks.  Every now and then a chunk of meat appears at the top of the screen - this serves as an unstoppable arcing projectile that will instantly defeat any wolf it hits - timed properly it can earn you a ton of points.  It's all a bit silly, but surprisingly addictive and fun once you get into it.

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. 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....

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. Dragon Warrior (Chunsoft, 1989)

The first game in the legendary Dragon Quest franchise, which was (and still is) a huge hit in Japan.  It never got anywhere near as big in the west but it is remembered by many because of Nintendo Power, who gave away some 400,000 unsold copies of the game as a subscription incentive.  While it's not the best of the series on the platform, I do have some fondness for this one as it was the very first RPG I ever played.  It had quite a lot to offer for an early example of a console RPG, too - you actually had to talk to townspeople and follow their clues to find important places and objects, it had a surprisingly solid storyline with a high-quality translation, and despite its simple graphics and minimal animation, it looked and sounded surprisingly good too.  Like many RPGs of the era, it's a bit of a slog today because of its heavy emphasis on grinding experience and gold, but regardless, it's a game I will always have good memories of.

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, 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!

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.)