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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. Kung Fu (Irem, 1985)


A port of the arcade game "Kung-Fu Master", which in Japan was a tie-in to a Jackie Chan movie, Spartan X (released in the US as "Wheels on Meals").  It doesn't follow the plot of the film especially closely, but that's all good when the game is as fun as it is.  The very first sidescrolling beat-em-ups ever made, you battle your way through waves of enemies, dodging or destroying obstacles and traps (falling fire, bees, etc) and trying to take down the boss at the end of the stage.  While the game isn't particularly long at five stages, it is quite fast-paced and fun for the time, requiring some solid memorization skills and twitch reflexes to survive (which only gets tougher and tougher on later loops).



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. Wild Gunman (Nintendo/Intelligent Systems, 1985)

Wild Gunman is a game with a bit of history, beginning its life as an electromechanical game in 1974 that utilized real-life footage being projected onto a screen, challenging the player to draw and fire when prompted to defeat several gunslinger opponents.  Obviously that wasn't a feasible thing to recreate on the NES, so they remade it with sprites. The overall concept remains the same, though two new game modes are added - one where you face down two opponents at once (one of whom may or may not fire at all) and a shootout mode where you have to blast baddies as they pop up in the windows and doors of a saloon.  The game also famously had a mocked-up recreation in Back to the Future Part II, utilizing sprites from the NES game and a cabinet that looked like a Versus System arcade cabinet; Wild Gunman was never actually released as a Versus game, though a couple other NES Zapper games were (Hogan's Alley, Duck Hunt and Freedom Force).

117. Quarth (Konami, 1990 in Japan)

A game that didn't make it to North America on the NES (though it did see a Game Boy port there), Quarth was a pretty unique concept - a combination of a puzzle game and a top-down shoot-em-up.  The basic premise is that there are incomplete squares of various sizes that slowly advance toward you, and you must shoot out blocks to fill them in, which clears them from the screen and earns you points.  Clearing more than one group of blocks at a time earns you bonuses, and there are powerups you can uncover to help you out (clearing the screen or stopping the scrolling temporarily) or earn bonus points.  A rare fusion of genres that made for a pretty cool experience.


116. Spot: The Video Game (Virgin Mastertronic, 1990)

A tie-in game to a soda mascot sounds like a pretty silly idea, but Spot managed to be a pretty fun time.  Essentially a port of the game Infection, which was ported to the arcades as "Ataxx" (and is known by many other names as well), it was a pretty simple concept - try to conquer as much of the board as you can.  You could duplicate your pieces to an adjacent space or jump them two spaces, and any of an opponent's color adjacent to it would flip to yours.  So, it was a matter of conquering territory while trying to secure spaces that your opponents couldn't take away.  Spot comes in by adding some personality to the game, having your pieces visually transform into him and have him leap, dive, polevault, etc. to the space you move to before stomping to flip adjacent pieces to your color.  One random space each game was also designated to start a slot machine minigame that could turn the tables if you matched three icons in a row.

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 appear 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 update on the Disk System called "Kaettekita Mario Bros" if that's your sort of thing.)