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11/02/2021

Top 120 NES Games, #48-37

48. Downtown Special: Kunio-Kun's Historical Period Drama! (Technos, 1991 in Japan)

Kunio was a relatively short-lived but still surprisingly popular series in the late '80s through the mid '90s, getting a surprising number of games that ranged from beat-em-ups to sports games with plenty of over-the-top violence mixed in.  River City Ransom quickly became a cult classic for blending RPG elements and open-world design into the mix, but not too many people talk about its followup; probably becauses it only came out in Japan.  It offered a significantly revamped UI, listing special moves in a separate screen from your items so you could build up an impressive arsenal, and you even had a computer-controlled partner aiding you in battle with surprisingly good AI (though as in RCR, the game tends to lag a lot with so many characters on-screen).  But perhaps best of all, it had a battery backup now instead of that awful password system from the original.  It doesn't break a lot of new ground, but it brings a new level of polish to a game that's already a big NES fan favorite.

47. Kid Icarus (Nintendo/TOSE, 1987)

A relatively early Nintendo title that didn't get a whole lot of attention at the time of its release despite combining elements of several other popular games.  It had the dungeon-crawling element of Zelda, the platforming of Mario and the plethora of hidden secrets and tricks akin to Metroid, and even a side-scrolling shooting stage akin to Gradius or Life Force.  However, it was hampered by a high level of difficulty overall and some rather frustrating elements to its design (Particularly the notorious eggplant wizards and Pluton flies, which turn you into a harmless eggplant until you visit a hospital and steal your items respectively).  Still, those who could adapt found a worthy adventure to undertake, with multiple endings endings giving it some extra challenge and replay value.  It may not be the most beloved Nintendo IP out there, but Kid Icarus is still a game worth checking out.

46. Battletoads & Double Dragon: The Ultimate Team (Rare, 1993)

One of the earliest video game crossovers I remember seeing, and at the time, it was certainly one to celebrate.  One of the best beat-em-up franchises of the era alongside the ultra-tough action masterpiece Battletoads?  I was definitely on-board as a fan of both.  While the gameplay is primarily based on Battletoads, it puts a much heavier emphasis on its beat-em-up elements this time around, ensuring the gameplay is fast-paced, hard-hitting and consistently fun.  Not to say that there are a shortage of obstacle course setpieces, of course, as you get a toned-down version of the Turbo Tunnel, a top-down shooter segment that feels like a cross between Asteroids and Solar Jetman, and some rappelling segments too.  Just a fun and solidly-crafted game in general with no shortage of challenge; it's just a shame it came out so late in the system's life.

 45. Bubble Bobble Part II (Taito, 1993)

Not to be confused with the relatively common "Rainbow Islands: The Story of Bubble Bobble II", Bubble Bobble Part 2 is one of the infamous "Taito Four", a set of four Taito-published games that were released late in the NES' lifespan in extremely limited quantities, and as a result now command outrageous prices online; it's not uncommon to see each one selling for upwards of $200. A shame in this one's case, as it's an update of Bubble Bobble with improved visuals and music and the same addictive gameplay qualities that made the original a hit. There are even boss battles added in every twenty stages and minigames that can be played to earn extra lives, giving it a slight Mario-esque feel as well. The only real letdown is the two player mode, which no longer allows for two players to take on levels simultaneously - instead you're stuck alternating turns whenever one player dies. Still, Bubble Bobble Part II is a beautiful game and very fun to play, and well worth checking out if you can get your hands on it.

44. Uninvited (ICOM, 1991)

Another game in the legendary "ICOM Trilogy" for the NES, and it's a good one alright. A horror-themed point and click adventure game that has you exploring a haunted mansion in search of your sister, it was also notable for featuring some surprisingly gruesome sights for an NES game. The animation is minimal at best, but the well-written narrative, atmospheric music and tense, dark story kept you engrossed throughout. It all makes me glad the point-and-click adventure genre is finally getting the revival it deserves in more modern times - younger gamers really were missing out on something special.






43. Castlevania (Konami, 1987)

Perhaps the most well known Konami franchise for its sheer prevalence, and it all began with this gem. Well, technically it began on the MSX with "Vampire Killer", but this is the one everybody remembers, largely because it was so damn impressive for its time. Heavily detailed graphics, an excellent soundtrack, and gameplay that walked the fine line between being a ton of fun and very challenging - perfectly timed attacks and movement were the order of the day here. Particularly because your hero's weapon was somewhat unwieldy compared to most video game weapons and there was a short delay between pressing the button and landing a hit. Still, it was all worth it just to say you persevered through the challenge and beat up horror icons like the creature from the black lagoon, Frankenstein's monster, the mummy, and even the grim reaper himself. Oh, and Dracula, of course.

42. Adventure Island II/III (Now Production, 1991/1992)

Adventure Island is one branch of the Wonder Boy series that spun off into its own series of games.  While Adventure Island mostly stuck to platforming, Wonder Boy branched out into numerous other genres including side-scrolling shmups and action-RPG territory, and mostly appeared on Sega consoles and the Turbografx-16 while Adventure Island primarily appeared on Nintendo consoles.  I personally prefer Adventure Island, as they're fun, fast-paced platformers with colorful graphics and some creative gameplay elements.  2 introduced the ability to store and use powerups later on (a la Mario 3) and dinosaur buddies that can breathe fire, fly, tail whip and move faster underwater (not unlike Yoshi from Super Mario World).  3 didn't add a lot of new elements to the gameplay over 2, but it was still a lot of fun, so I'm certainly not complaining.

42. Ninja Gaiden (Tecmo, 1988)

The first in a legendary NES trilogy, Ninja Gaiden quickly became as well-known for its high production budget and gripping storyline (a rarity at the time) as for its absurd difficulty - enemy patterns start off relatively manageable, but quickly become downright vicious, requiring spot-on execution with jumps, attacks and special weapons to even have a chance of seeing it through to the end.  To say nothing of the final boss gauntlet, which also requires strict adherence to a pattern and punishes the player for death by sending them all the way back to the beginning of the stage.  Still, those who could persevere found a game worthy of hanging with the best in the action genre even now, almost thirty years after its original release.

41. RC Pro Am 2 (Rare, 1992)

The original RC Pro Am was revered as a great racer at the time it came out, and rightfully so; it blended arcade-styled challenge with sharp graphics and the ever-present fun of blowing up your opponents with land mines and missiles to overtake the lead. Hell, it was practically an early predecessor to Nintendo's long-running Mario Kart franchise. RC Pro Am II managed to be even better, upping the challenge and visuals, adding in a four-player mode and introducing a more intuitive shop system for car upgrades, but sadly not many people noticed it as it came out well after the SNES had already debuted...




40. Mega Man 5 (Capcom, 1992)

This particular Mega Man game gets a bit of a bum rap, being overlooked by many due to the fact that it doesn't really introduce too many new elements to the formula. But my argument is this: why fix what ain't broken? That seems to have been Capcom's philosophy for this game too - while it may not break a lot of new ground, it's just a well-made game with finely polished music and visuals and some cleanup to various mechanics of the game - notably the charge shot feeling a bit less clunky and the occasionally spotty hit detection of earlier games being airtight this time around. Perhaps the only real downside I'd point to are the early stages of the final gauntlet, which seem to have been engineered to be as annoying as humanly possible...


39. Shadowgate (ICOM, 1989)

The third and final game in what's affectionately called the ICOM Trilogy, and it's definitely the most iconic and memorable of the three. This is in no small part due to its fantastic soundtrack that perfectly complements the haunting atmosphere of the game's environment - a booby trap laden castle populated by all manner of evil beasts and puzzles to solve. The solutions to the puzzles can be a bit opaque (you must use the spear on the troll in order to get across the bridge - nothing else will work) or even downright silly at times (throwing a star you got off a map to kill a wyvern...?), but it's nevertheless an engrossing experience with some very clever storytelling throughout. Oh, and don't forget to collect any torches you find - if yours ever burns out, it's an immediate game over!

38. Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels (Nintendo, 1986 in Japan)

The "real" Super Mario Bros. 2, unreleased in North America for many years because of Nintendo's fears that it would be too difficult for North American gamers and that people would reject it for being too similar in appearance and gameplay to the original. Well, their fears weren't entirely unfounded, because the game is tough as nails; with some new mechanics like winds that push you around, piranha plants that no longer fear the player, and warp zones that take you backwards instead of forwards, as well as some truly sadistic stage design, it's a real challenge to complete. Oh, and there are also five hidden worlds to explore with some downright insane unlock conditions, which only keeps you coming back for even more punishment. That said, those who can endure its monstrous challenge are in for a rewarding experience.

37. Ducktales (Capcom, 1990)

Capcom created numerous licensed games in the NES and SNES era, many of which hold up surprisingly well to this day. By far the most fondly remembered, however, has to be Ducktales. Far from being a linear platformer, Ducktales features five large stages to explore, each with numerous hidden secrets to find, including two hidden treasures worth over a million dollars apiece. Finding them all was more than just a side-venture, though - it was a necessity to get the game's best ending, which required you having a score of over $10,000,000 by the time you completed the final stage. Having top-notch graphics and music per Capcom standards certainly didn't hurt its appeal either. All in all, a short but sweet adventure.

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