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11/02/2021

Top 120 NES Games, #60-49

60. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game/III: The Manhattan Project (Konami, 1990/1992)

The first TMNT game was an action title with some open-world elements, while the second was a port of Konami's popular arcade game, losing some of its graphical fidelity but actually improving upon its gameplay (much sharper hit detection!) and adding in two new levels to set it apart.  The third game in the franchise was an original game in the same format as 2, though adding some new twists.  Each turtle now had their own special move that could deal out the damage, and would cost 1 life point every time they used it (unless they were already at one point, in which case they could spam it as much as they liked).  Numerous new bosses appear as well; not just from the cartoon series, but also from the movies and comic books.  It does get to be a bit long and is fairly one-note gameplay-wise, but both games are solid and well worth playing.

59. Just Breed (Random House, 1992 in Japan)

A game that famously spent over three years in development at a time when such things were rare, and as a result saw a relatively late release on the Famicom in 1992, Just Breed was also a cut above most RPGs on the platform.  A tactical turn-based experience to rival games like Fire Emblem or Shining Force, Just Breed carved out its own niche by having detailed graphics and fantastic music thanks to using the MMC5 chip, as well as gameplay that was downright impressive in scale, based around sprawling battles with dozens of units duking it out on both sides.  Each of the main characters is accompanied by up to five generic units, and each squad levels up as a group, so it definitely feels like you're commanding large army-versus-army battles and not just a small ragtag band of fighters.  It has a few quirks - the main characters take their move before any of their underlings can, and all characters in a unit do have to stay relatively close together,  so traversing maps can be somewhat slow, especially if a couple units break away to deal with a lingering foe.  Protecting your main character is also important - if they fall, all of their underlings will retreat from the field, so you have to strike a careful balance between forging ahead with your squad leaders and not leaving them too vulnerable to the inevitable counterattack.  But while not flawless, Just Breed is an ambitious, surprisingly big (6 megabits!) and quite fun strategy RPG that pushes the Famicom hardware to its limits, and is well worth playing for any genre fan.

58. Gradius II: Gofer no Yabou (Konami, 1988 in Japan)

Another great homeport of a kickass Konami arcade game never got released elsewhere.  But at least I have an answer for why it didn't in this case; on the Famicom, this game utilized a custom memory mapper that the NES lacked, and it would be a lot of effort to covert it over to NES hardware, so they just didn't bother.  Those who got to play it were in for a treat, though, as it was another great game in the series.  Now employing vertical scrolling as well as horizontal, as well as plenty of crazy stages where you're travelling between suns battling giant dragons and other crazy eye-popping sights.  As per series norm, it is also an exceptionally tough experience, requiring much practice and impeccable power-up usage if you want any hope of seeing your way to the end.

57. Super C (Konami, 1990)

The strangely-titled sequel to Contra (so named because Konami didn't want to associate themselves with the Iran-Contra scandal of the time), Super C wasn't quite as memorable as the original game, but still a very worthwhile run-and-gun title in itself.  Several of the less-prestigious weapons of the original were powered up - the Flamethrower in particular now fires an exploding shot and can be charged to deal more damage, for example.  The over-the-shoulder view levels were also replaced with top-down shooting segments, and levels became more dynamic in general, with segments like an elevator and a falling ceiling that can severely hamper your movement.   Konami were masters of making home ports of arcade games that somehow surpassed the originals in quality, and Super C is another fine example of that.

56. Summer Carnival '92: Recca (Naxatsoft, 1992)

Recca is a game known for three things: Giving the Genesis's Blast Processing a run for its money with the fluidity in its gameplay and animations, being extremely rare (only seeing limited release as part of a Japanese competition) and its monstrous difficulty.   From beginning to end this game's action is utterly relentless, with constant swarms of enemy ships and bullets flooding the screen amongst a plethora of flashy visual effects and intense, pulse-pounding music, and it all blazes along at speeds the hardware doesn't even seem like it should be capable of at all!  If you want a game that will push your reflexes and shoot-em-up skills to their limits (and if you can find a copy), look no further than Recca, because it is truly one-of-a-kind.


55. Mega Man 6 (Capcom, 1993)

Considered one of the weaker entries on the platform by a lot of fans, Mega Man 6 certainly showed signs of being rushed; it came out late in the system's life and Nintendo, in the role of producing this title, was clearly banking on it being a send-off game; the level quality and challenge definitely suffered as a result.  However, it did also have some unique quirks to set it apart.  Instead of calling in Rush, you now morph with him into two forms - Rush Power (which can smash through walls and deal damage with short-ranged punches) and Rush Jet (serving as a jetpack that allows flight for short distances).  It also had some great music as per series norm, proving that if nothing else, Capcom was striving to make it memorable if not one of the best.  It's a ton of fun to play in spite of its faults, and hey, classic Mega Man at his weakest is still better than most game franchises at their best.

54. Willow (Capcom, 1989)


Another high-quality tie-in title from Capcom.  Based on the film of the same name and following its plot pretty closely for the most part, Willow's gameplay was clearly modeled on Legend of Zelda, though it also worked in a few elements of Zelda II.  As you defeat enemies you'll gain experience and level up, bolstering your stats, and you'd unlock numerous spells and new pieces of equipment along the way.  Many of these are used offensively (like the ability to throw acorns that paralyze enemies), while others have more supportive uses - healing Willow, blowing enemies offscreen so you don't have to fight them, or quickly returning to past towns, to name a few.  Sprites are large and detailed, and I like the fact that the wind blows whenever combat starts, making all the trees and grass on-screen shake.  Some well-composed music rounds out the package, making for a fun and entertaining title on the whole.

53. Moon Crystal  (Hect, 1992 in Japan)

A rare and expensive title from a relatively unknown developer, but that doesn't mean it's not a good game.  Moon Crystal might just have the most impressive presentation of any game on the platform, with some really good music tracks, large and fluidly-animated character sprites, cutscenes between stages reminiscent of Ninja Gaiden, and even some impressive effects like parallax backgrounds and multi-plane scrolling.  Moon Crystal feels a bit like Prince of Persia gameplay-wise, with the player able to grab onto ledges and pull themselves up and a somewhat more methodical approach to action and platforming - your smooth animation comes at the cost of having a substantial delay in things like ducking, turning and jumping, so planning and executing moves to avoid obstacles, dodge enemy attacks and land hits is a challenge in itself.  You do get some help in the form of powerups that increase your attack range, boost your health bar for the rest of the stage or enable double-jumping, though, which does help prevent things from getting too frustrating.

52. Blaster Master (Sunsoft, 1988)

Sunsoft was another big name to many NES gamers, creating quite a few high-quality games in their time (including more than a few licensed tie-ins of surprising quality).  Blaster Master is one that's fondly remembered by many; known as much for its solid gameplay and design as its silly localization.  The Japanese version was a tale about an alien invasion in a distant world while the US version was reworked to be about a kid searching for his pet frog, mutated into giant form by radiation.  Either way, though, the game is a solid one, having you control both the protagonist in top-down shooter sections and the tank in side-scrolling ones, defeating bosses and finding numerous upgrades in order to progress.  From jet thrusters to driving up walls to upgrading your tank's artillery, it's a game with quite a lot to experience.  The only downside was a lack of any kind of save or password feature, so it was a game you had to not only get good at, but beat in one long session!

51. Dragon Warrior III (Chunsoft, 1992)

Probably the premier JRPG series, the first game was hugely popular in its time and the franchise has continued to be an unstoppable force in Japan, with most stores even refusing to sell the games on weekdays so kids don't skip class to go buy them.  Among them, Dragon Quest III continues to be regarded as the best of the NES era, and for good reason - it keeps the defining charm and simplicity of the series while working in a Final Fantasy style customization element, letting you pick from several classes to tweak the game's difficulty to your liking.  About halfway through the game you can even change their class, letting them carry over some stats from their original jobs while branching out into an other discipline to become even more powerful.  Story wise it also serves as a clever prequel to the first two games, with a lot of events that are only told in legend there becoming reality as you venture across the land and conquer the evils in it.  Like Final Fantasy 1,though,you may want to play one of the remakes over the original nowadays, as they all have various balance tweaks and added content like new weapons and classes. 


50. Mr. Gimmick! (Sunsoft, 1992 in Japan, 1993 in Europe)


Another very overlooked game, though I can't blame people for that because the game only saw an extremely limited release in exactly two regions - Japan and Scandinavia - in the twilight days of the system. It's a real shame it didn't get a wider release, too, as this may just be the most impressive game on the system on a technical level. Not only were the sights and sounds top notch, but the programming here is superb - objects actually actually slide down slopes and ricochet off objects realistically and enemies show a modicum of artificial intelligence, backstepping to evade your attacks and attempting to trap you in tight spaces when given half a chance. It's also surprisingly tough for such a cutesy-looking game, requiring you to master the finer points of the physics and your bouncing star weapon (which can also double as a platform when jumped upon) in order to collect all the hidden treasures and reach the best ending. Oh, and did I mention you can't use any continues either? ...Yeah, if you want that ending, you're going to WORK for it!

49. 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!

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