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11/02/2021

Top 120 NES Games, #36-25

36. The Adventures of Lolo trilogy (HAL, 1989, 1990 and 1992)

Spawned from the Japanese puzzle game series "Eggerland", Adventures of Lolo had a trilogy of games on the NES before fading into obscurity. Which is a shame, because they're all quite good games with well designed puzzles and some clever gameplay mechanics. As they all have very similar mechanics, visuals and music, I've decided to lump all three together under one heading. But if I had to pick one over the others, Lolo 3 would win out for adding in not only tougher puzzles, but a touch of non-linearity as well - there is actually an overworld this time, enabling you to do dungeons in any order you wish (to an extent - you'll still have to complete some dungeons in order to unlock others). There's even boss fights at the end of each dungeon now, giving the game some action-oriented variety instead of just room after room of puzzle solving.

35. Final Fantasy III (Square, 1990 in Japan)

The last of the Final Fantasy games released for the Famicom, and definitely the best one it had there.  After the relatively unpopular second entry tried to change up the gameplay and design (with not-so-great results), Final Fantasy III goes back to basics a bit, reintroducing the class system and overall aesthetic of the first while giving it a major upgrade in visual and sound fidelity.  The class sytem is much more in-depth now, though, including nineteen classes in total.  All the classics from the first return and many new ones are introduced that would become series mainstays, like the Ranger, Geomancer, Bard and Sage classes.  A much larger world than the first two games is on display too, as are plenty of dungeons and hidden secrets to find.  It's not regarded by too many people as one of the best in the franchise, but it's certainly the best you're going to find on the original Famicom.

34. Mega Man 4 (Capcom, 1992)

Mega Man 4 had a tough act to follow after the runaway successes of the second and third games in the series, but it managed to distinguish itself remarkably well. Returning the series to its difficult roots while retaining its improvements, the game also implemented a couple of other interesting features. Notably side-paths in some stages that led to new usable items and a new gameplay feature in the form of the Mega Buster, wherein Mega Man could now hold down the B button to fire a stronger charged shot that could pulverize weaker enemies and inflict more damage to bosses. There were some cheap deaths in places and a few instances of spotty hit detection, but all in all Mega Man 4 proved to be another worthy Mega Man game for the ages.

33. Ninja Gaiden II: The Dark Sword of Chaos (Tecmo, 1990)

The followup to the smash hit Ninja Gaiden and in several ways its superior. Enemy respawning is a bit more manageable this time (they actually have to be offscreen now, not just close to the edge) and the hellish million-enemies-a-minute stages toward the end of the game are considerably less intense, though still very difficult. Best of all, though, you don't have to redo the entire final stage upon dying at the final gauntlet (though it still sends you back a fair distance). But by far the most well remembered feature is your new weapon - the shadow clones. Up to two of these guys can follow you and will mimic your every move and attack, albeit they will trail a bit behind you as you move around. When positioned properly they can be downright deadly, enabling you to rip through bosses in mere seconds while remaining relatively safe yourself. A clever feature to be sure, and it only makes it all the more impressive when skilled players give the game a run. Oh, and the music kicks ass too.

32. Earthbound Beginnings (Nintendo, 1989 in Japan)

The predecessor to the legendary SNES RPG Earthbound, which was planned for a US release and even fully translated to that effect but ultimately never saw the light of day because it was deemed "unprofitable" in light of the SNES' release. Which is a shame, as it's a fun game with some quirky atmosphere and design. Unlike many RPGs of the time, this one was set in a modern era, complete with modern weapons like baseball bats, frying pans and yo-yos and psychic powers in lieu of magic spells. Even the enemies are a clever subversion, featuring aliens, runaway trucks, stray animals and yes, even crazed hippies. While it does have a few faults that prevent it from joining the ranks of other top-tier RPGs (most notably an unreasonable encounter rate and some very steep fluctuations in enemy difficulty), it is at the very least an unforgettable and unique experience. Plus it did spawn two other fantastic titles in Earthbound and Mother 3, so hey, take the good with the bad and enjoy this overlooked gem.

31. Tetris: The Soviet Mind Game (Atari, 1990)

Another game surrounded by controversy upon its release, as it was produced and sold by Tengen months ahead of Nintendo and Bullet Proof Software's "official" versions despite the fact that Tengen did not legally have the rights to sell an NES conversion. This led to a lengthy lawsuit between Nintendo and Tengen and resulted in the game quickly being pulled from shelves, turning it into a rare collector's item overnight.  Remarkably, though, this game is superior to Nintendo and Bullet Proof Software's versions for one big reason: two player support! Not only does it feature a competitive mode, but there's even a clever cooperative mode where both players drop pieces into the same field at the same time. Now how in the world did Nintendo forget to include that in their version?

30. Mighty Final Fight (Capcom, 1993)

The first spinoff of Capcom's successful beat-em-up franchise, Mighty Final Fight brings the series to the NES with a super-deformed graphical style and a cartoonish sense of humor, complete with silly dialog and exaggerated expressions whenever characters take hits. It also seems to take a cue from the original Double Dragon game on NES, implementing an experience-based leveling system that grants players more life, increases their damage output and even unlocks new moves as they gain levels. Hell, it even has all three playable characters intact - something that couldn't be said for the original SNES port of the first game. All in all a solid NES beat-em-up with good graphics, tight controls and plenty of challenge. The only downside is that it lacks a two player mode...

29. Little Samson (Takeru, 1992)

Another of the notorious "Taito Four", but easily my favorite of the bunch. Little Samson has you playing as the titular Samson, a mountain-climbing kid who throws bells (just... go with it) and his three companions as they attempt to free the land from an evil prince. Your companions lend the game quite a bit of variety, as each one has different abilities to utilize - Samson can climb walls and even up onto ceilings, Kikira the Dragon can fly for short distances and charge her fire breath into a deadly torrent, Gamm the Golem moves slowly but hits hard and can cross spikes without being harmed, and KO the mouse has the lowest health, but can fit into narrow openings, climb walls and ceilings and drop deadly bombs that, when well placed, can even eliminate bosses in short order. Also notable are the game's visuals, which sport an amazing amount of detail for an NES game, looking almost photorealistic in places save for the limited palette.

28. Ultima: Quest of the Avatar (Infinity, 1990)

Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar is one of the most highly-regarded computer RPGs of all time for its unique premise - embodying the eight virtues rather than vanquishing some great evil - and excellent execution.  You had to actually walk the walk, facing opponents honorably in battle, not stealing or being dishonest, and even embody humility by taking insults in stride.  Two console ports emerged - a very faithful Sega Master system version and a more "JRPG-ized" NES version, which has become something of a cult classic in its own right.  While the overall gameplay and premise remain similar, it now features colorful sprites and animation on par with games like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, a strong soundtrack and a more console-friendly UI, making it easier to pick up and play.  I probably wouldn't consider it my favorite version, but it is certainly worth checking out if you're a fan of Ultima or just classic RPGs in general.

27. Tecmo Super Bowl (Tecmo, 1991)

Sports games tend to be quickly forgotten due to having "bigger and better" versions released on a regular basis, but Tecmo Super Bowl is definitely an exception, retaining a sizable cult following that has persisted to this day.  It certainly isn't hard to see why, as the game strikes an excellent balance between the strategy of sports games and the fluid action and dynamic visuals of a good arcade title, making for an experience that plays just as well as it looks.  The AI rubber-bands like crazy in the season campaign, which can be very frustrating, but as couch competition games go it's an unbeatable classic.  It says a lot that nearly thirty years after its original release it still sees mods that update the roster, add custom teams and players, and it even has national tournaments that have been covered on ESPN.  And yes, because of this game, I will always be of the belief that Bo Jackson is a superhuman android.


26. Double Dragon II: The Revenge (Technos, 1990)

By far the most well known and beloved of the NES Double Dragon games, and for very good reason.  Not only did it restore the two player cooperative play that the original sorely lacked, but it was also just a damn good beat-em-up.  Enemies were much more varied and challenging than the original game, and there were even some tricky platforming sections mixed in to keep you on your toes - my favorite being the big steamroller contraption you had to climb up while avoiding bursts of steam and trying not to get run over (pictured).  Hell, I dare say the game even surpasses its arcade counterpart by adding in more stages and having a running plot throughout, even if it does get a bit goofy near the end (with Marion being resurrected through a literal deus ex machina).

25. Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse (Konami, 1990)

After Castlevania II mixed up the format and controversy ensued, Konami went back to basics a bit with the third game, taking the the player through a straightforward action game with challenging platforming, tons of tricky enemies and atmosphere to spare.  Its large sprites and fluid animation impressed at a glance, but a killer soundtrack (moreso on the original Famicom release, which utilized an extra audio chip to enhance the sound quality) and numerous new gameplay features kept people's attention.  In addition to Trevor Belmont, the player could recruit Grant Danasty (who could climb on walls and ceilings), Sypha (who could cast powerful spells) or Alucard (Dracula's son who could throw fireballs and transform into a bat to skip over tough parts).  That, plus multiple paths through the game, lent it a lot of replay value.  The only drawback was its extreme difficulty, and given that Castlevania 1 was already a very tough game, making this one even harder was no small feat!

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