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Top 120 NES Games, #84-73

84. Balloon Fight (Nintendo, 1986)

It's Joust mixed with Joust and a dash of Joust on top. Well, okay, it's not a complete copy of Williams' classic arcade game; the hit detection is a bit more specific this time, requiring you to actually contact an opponent's balloons to break them rather than simply be a few pixels above them when you collide. There are also hazards like lightning, spinning bumpers and giant fish trying to eat you to impede your progress. There's even a new gameplay mode, "Balloon Trip", where the object is to make it as far as you can before you hit an electrified bumper or get eaten by a fish. It's one of the better early NES games and among the first to feature two player simultaneous play as well. So derivative it may be, but it's also quite a lot of fun.

83. Joy Mech Fight (Nintendo, 1993 in Japan)

Street Fighter II, while not the first fighting game ever made, is definitely the one that kicked the genre into high gear, and it seemed like everybody wanted to make their own version to cash in; from big companies to obscure eastern Asian pirate groups, everyone wanted a slice of that pie.  Nintendo took their own crack at it on the NES - not exactly a practical system for it owing to strict memory and graphical limitations, but they found a way.  By giving all the characters disconnected limbs, they could keep the gameplay fast and the animation smooth.  It has a fairly long single-player campaign where you face off with progressively tougher waves of robots and make your way to the big boss at the end, but of course it also had a competitive two-player mode with eight playable robots with their own distinct special moves.

82. Akumajo Special: Boku Dracula-Kun (Konami, 1990 in Japan)

Konami spoofs themselves again with a game where you play as a kid version of Dracula out to defeat a challenger to his throne; namely, the demon Galamoth.  Rather than a dark gothic feel this game is bright, colorful and silly, with upbeat takes on Castlevania tracks and some creative twists on familiar enemies and locations from the series.  Dracula himself retains several of his distinct abilities, having an upgradable fireball attack and the ability to transform into a bat to maneuver through levels, and gains several more as well, like the ability to walk on ceilings or freeze enemies in ice.  Between each stage you also get a variety of minigames to earn extra lives and power-ups.  Just a fun, light-hearted spoof of its parent franchise that pays homage to everything great about it.

81. Final Fantasy (Square, 1990)

It's a story well-known to any serious RPG fan - Square was on the brink of financial ruin and they had one last chance to turn things around, so out came "Final Fantasy", its name chosen for that very reason (and also because their first choice, "Fighting Fantasy", was already taken).  It ended up being a big hit and even found a dedicated audience abroad, kicking off a very popular franchise that continues to get sequels, spinoffs, remakes, remasters and reimaginings to this day.  The original, like many JRPGs of the era, was heavily inspired by Wizardry, with a relatively simple story but complex dungeons, having to decipher clues from townspeople, and even letting you customize your party with four characters and six classes (which could later be upgraded to "prestige classes" that had more impressive powers).  The NES version definitely isn't the best - a lot of spells and items just plain don't work as intended, and having to manually target each enemy so you don't waste turns was a pain.  Still, it's a defining classic and worth a look, though I'd say get one of the newer versions instead if you want to do a full run-through.

80. Deja Vu: A Nightmare Comes True! (ICOM, 1990)

Part of the so-called "ICOM Trilogy" for the NES, Deja Vu was a slightly more realistic take on the point-and-click adventure genre. As an amnesiac framed for murder, it falls to you to recover your memories, clear your name and uncover the real culprits behind the crime. As with the other two games in the series, some puzzle solutions are a bit obtuse and it's possible to get stuck in an unwinnable state if you're not careful, but the solid, atmospheric soundtrack and tense narrative make it an unforgettable experience regardless. Deja Vu also had a sequel was never released on the NES; however, it did eventually get a Game Boy Color port in late 1999.

79. Lemmings (DMA Design/Sunsoft, 1992)

Lemmings was an enormously popular puzzle game back in the early '90s, spawning numerous sequels, spinoffs and ports on just about every platform you could think of.  Sunsoft did a great job on the NES port too, retaining the same gameplay as well as the high-quality animation and music that made it a hit on various computer platforms.  The goal of the game is a simple one - get a quota of lemmings safely to the goal - and to that end you assign a few of them tasks like blocking the others from walking into hazards, giving them umbrellas to safely drop long distances, digging through dirt or building staircases to clear a path.  Sounds simple enough, but it quickly becomes very challenging, with later levels requiring very careful planning and precision to complete.  Still, Lemmings is a classic puzzle game, and is definitely worth a look if you somehow haven't played it already.

78. GI Joe: A Real American Hero (Taxan, 1991)

The first of the two NES GI Joe games, and it was a fine representation of the show, letting you pick a team of three characters as you completed various missions.  Mostly in the form of side-scrolling platforming stages and boss fights with the franchise's iconic villains, but throughout you'd also have to infiltrate bases and plant bombs, then defeat the boss and make your escape before they detonated, which was quite cool to see.  Each team member also had different abilities - Snake Eyes could jump the highest and had relatively long melee range with his sword, Duke and Gridiron are relatively well balanced, while Rock&Roll has overall low stats but the most powerful weapon in the game when fully powered up.  The final stage also lets you take control of General Hawk, who flies around with a jetpack, adding another layer of fun.  A solid, well-made game that for some reason never got much attention.

77. Journey to Silius (Sunsoft, 1990)

Journey to Silius is another highly-regarded title by Sunsoft, and it isn't hard to see why just from a screenshot - the game looked absolutely phenomenal for 1990.  Large, stylish sprites, detailed backgrounds, polished mechanics and high quality music showed up too, all of which helped cement Sunsoft as one of the NES's premiere developers.  A slightly less savory element to their games, though, was the punishing difficulty, and Journey to Silius is definitely no different there.  Enemies require some very well-honed tactics to get past, ammo for your special weapons is rare to come by, health even moreso, and dying at any point (even at the stage boss) forces you to redo the entire gauntlet from the beginning.  Bosses are no slouches either, often requiring extremely precise pattern-dodging and firing to get through intact.  It's an impressive and very polished game, but it certainly feels like punishment at times too.

76. Dr. Mario (Nintendo, 1988)

While I'm not a huge player of competitive puzzle games, there's no denying that Dr. Mario has that good old addictive charm to it. There's a true sense of frantic challenge as you try to clear an entire screen of colored viruses, trying not to let your pills fall in the wrong place and create obstacles that will take a significant amount of time and effort to clear (and probably gum up your efforts even more as you do so). Hell, there was even a two-player competitive mode, which couldn't be said for Nintendo's version of Tetris. I also both praise and curse it for having one of the catchiest tunes in all of gaming; I first played this game over thirty years ago and I still have that Fever tune stuck in my head... 

75. Faxanadu (Hudson Soft, 1989)

A spinoff of Xanadu (the second game in Falcom's Dragon Slayer series, which itself never got a western release), Faxanadu is regarded as an overlooked classic these days.  It's definitely one of the more unique and bizarre fantasy games on the platform, with a downright bizarre setting, some creepy enemies and some surprisingly good gameplay.  Combining elements of platformers (complete with a number power-ups and hazardous items one must avoid) and RPG elements like spells,, experience points and armor upgrades, it has quite a bit to offer both action and RPG fans.  It does have some slightly awkward controls and tricky jumps that require nearly pixel-perfect precision.  Faxanadu was never a super popular game, but those who give it a chance have a good time in store.

74. Life Force (Konami, 1988)

Known as "Salamander" in Japan, Life Force is a spinoff of the Gradius franchise, featuring both side-scrolling and top-down scrolling gameplay and a similar power-up system.  It definitely plays up the horror influence too, taking place in the body of a giant alien and having appropriately creepy, fleshy environments and bosses to square off against.  The NES version, in addition to being heavily reworked from the arcade, was also notable at the time for featuring two-player simultaneous co-op, and surprisingly it shows little slowdown during it even when the action really heats up.  But of course, Konami pulls no punches with the difficulty either - if you don't memorize the ins-and-outs of every battle and plan your movements carefully, you're not going to be able to finish this one.

73. Destiny of an Emperor (Capcom, 1990)

When you talk about NES RPGs, pretty much everyone will mention Zelda or Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest/Warrior.  Destiny of an Emperor is rarely mentioned in comparison, but for Capcom's first foray into the genre, it was a relatively novel one. An adaptation of the manga "Tenchi wo Kurau" which itself was based on the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history, it was a turn based RPG with a twist - Soldiers were your Hit Points, Tactics were your spells, and rather than a small handful of characters to recruit, there were 150 generals in total; most did not power up as the party's levels increase, though, so picking the best ones available and booting weaker characters to make room for stronger ones were commonplace events. The good soundtrack and relatively quick pace also help to set it apart and keep it consistently entertaining.