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Top 111 NES Games, #50-41

50. Arkanoid (Taito, 1986)

Another game known for its wacky plot, introducing a wireframe Moai head named "DOH" pulling Earth's space forces into a pocket dimension or some such nonsense.  It's all a bit arbitrary, though, since this never comes into play until the final stage of the game; until then, it's all about smashing bricks with a ball and paddle in a game heavily inspired by Breakout.  The gimmick that sets it apart, though, is its powerup system - broken bricks drop icons that enlarge your paddle's size, give you multiple balls to break bricks with, allow you to "catch" the ball and release it at a more favorable angle, and my favorite, the ability to shoot lasers from your paddle to break bricks and destroy enemies.  The game even came packaged with a custom-made controller that featured an analog knob, which made the gameplay much more smooth than with a standard controller.  It's a bit of a scarce collector's item these days, but if you can track one down, give it a go with this game.  It will not disappoint!

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

Kunio was a relatively short-lived but 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.

48. Takahashi Meijin no Bouken Shima IV (Now Production, 1994 in Japan)

Just about everyone knows about Adventure Island - a popular series of fast paced NES platformers by Now Production and published by Hudson Soft.  Not quite as many people know it had a fourth entry on the Famicom; mostly because it came out very late in the system's life (the very last game released for it, in fact) and is now pretty hard to find.  It definitely doesn't follow the same gameplay style as the first three games, though, being retooled into more of a Metroid-like format.  You now have a proper health bar (expandable by finding heart containers) and numerous new items to clear paths and make traveling around easier - from a torchs that light up dark areas (but only if you can find a sconce on the wall to light up with it), a hammer that can smash rocks and a snowboard that lets you make large jumps over tricky snowy areas.  You can also earn powerups by completing a handful of minigames, including ones that let you set a teleport point to quickly return to or just have a handy way to restore health on the fly.

47. 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.

 46. 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.

45. 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.

44. 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.

43. 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. They're all quite good, but  Adventure Island is a fun, fast-paced platformer series 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...

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