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11/02/2021

Top 120 NES Games, #96-85

96. Dragon Warrior (Chunsoft, 1989)

The first game in the legendary Dragon Quest franchise, which was (and still is) a huge hit in Japan.  It never got anywhere near as big in the west but it is remembered by many because of Nintendo Power, who gave away some 400,000 unsold copies of the game as a subscription incentive.  While I'm not the biggest Dragon Quest fan, I do have some fondness for this one as it was the very first RPG I ever played.  It had quite a lot to offer for an early example of a console RPG, too - you actually had to talk to townspeople and follow their clues to find important places and objects, it had a surprisingly solid storyline with a high-quality translation, and despite its simple graphics and minimal animation, it looked and sounded surprisingly good too.  Like many RPGs of the era, it's a bit of a slog today because of its heavy emphasis on grinding experience and gold, but regardless, it's a game I will always have good memories of.

95. Fire N' Ice (Tecmo, 1993)

A late-comer to the NES scene, which of course means it fetches insanely high prices on the secondary market these days.  It's also the sequel to Solomon's Key, though for whatever reason they decided to downplay this fact when they localized it.  The fact that they don't really play much alike may have been a factor, though - while the original was an actiony puzzle-platformer where you tried to uncover secrets, capture fairies and avoid hazards on your way to the exit, this is more of a straight puzzle game, having you create icy surfaces (though only in diagonal spaces below you) and extinguish all the fires in the level by pushing ice blocks into them or dropping them on top.  There are also 'boss stages' of sorts with mechanics like scrolling screens or moving fires that require some extra strategy to extinguish.  A fun little puzzle game with some deceptively deep mechanics.

94. M.C. Kids (Virgin Games, 1992)

M.C. Kids is a game that's frequently overlooked, but I can't give people too much crap for that.  Between its late release and being an advergame for McDonalds, it's one that few people paid any mind to in the 90s and most who learned of it later dismiss immediately.  However, those who gave it a chance found a highly polished and fun platformer that takes several cues from the Super Mario Bros series.  One can pick up and throw blocks to defeat enemies or weigh themselves down to spring higher on springs, flip their own gravity and traverse stages upside-down, and of course find a huge plethora of secrets and bonuses in each level.  Even the visual style is similar, with some smoothly animated characters and detailed sprites.  Virgin would go on to make several highly-acclaimed games (most notably Aladdin on the Sega Genesis), but M.C. Kids never quite got its due.

93. Ai Senshi Nicol (Konami, 1987 in Japan) (FDS)

Ai Senshi Nicol ("Love Warrior Nicol") is a surprising one - a high quality Konami game that never got a cartridge release, let alone a localization.  Moreso because it's built on the model of games like Zelda and Metroid with its large open stages.  Each one is many screens tall and wide, and has you collect powerups to bypass certain obstacles, blast enemies and finish each stage with a big boss fight.  All with surprisingly good graphics for the time period - it came out in 1987 and yet looks and sounds almost as good as NES games from the 90s.  The latter also uses the extra sound channel on the Disk System to provide some nice music that the base hardware simply wasn't capable of.  A very cool and overlooked game that's well worth your time if you can track down a copy (and the hardware to play it on).

92. Kickle Cubicle (Irem, 1990)

A relatively unique and well-crafted puzzle game by Irem, where you play as a snowman-esque character named Kickle who can create ice pillars and freeze enemies with his breath to turn them into cubes.  Said cubes can then be pushed into the water to create floors, or pushed into other enemies to eliminate them, or ricocheted off of springs or hammers to redirect their motion (though they can easily clobber you as well, so you must be careful).  Your goal in each stage is to collect the three "dream bags", though as in any good puzzle game, this quickly becomes a daunting task - avoiding enemies, being careful not to trap yourself and setting up pillars in the right time and place to avoid hazards are all skills you will have to master (especially in the bonus stages, unlocked after completing the main game).  There are boss fights too, which require some quick movement and reaction speed to overcome.

91. GI Joe: The Atlantis Factor (KID, 1992)

The second game based on the GI Joe license, this time published by Capcom.  Appropriately, the game also changes format, going from a mostly-linear action title to one with a free-roaming stage selection similar to Bionic Commando - visiting different areas allows you to rescue Joes (both as playable characters and assisting you with extra ammo or other benefits), collect new weapons and find caches of powerups on your way to the end.  As in the previous game, each Joe has different stats and can collect upgrades, though this time you can also upgrade your melee attack - from basic punches to flying kicks to just straight damage boosts.  It's not the most iconic NES action title there is, but it's a solid one that's worth a play if you can find a copy.

90. Snake Rattle 'n' Roll (Rare, 1990)

Rare had some hits and misses on the NES, and some games that were honestly quite good but just didn't sell very well.   Snake Rattle & Roll is one of those, and it hits all of the company's hallmarks - bright, colorful and eye-catching graphics, smooth animation, a fantastic and energetic soundtrack by David Wise, polished controls, and utterly punishing difficulty, particularly in the later stages.  The premise is simple enough - platforming through isometric stages, avoiding obstacles, defeating enemies and collecting enough "Nibbly Pibblies" to grow your snake's tail and open the exit by standing on the scale (okay, so it's not that simple), but the difficulty quickly scales up.  Strict time limits, aggressive enemies, tons of traps, very precise jumps required to cross vanishing platforms, and even some surprisingly robust physics so slopes and ice actually make you slide around and water will actively slow you down.  Still, it's well-made enough that it never feels unfair, just tough, and being able to say you finally surmounted all the challenges and completed the game is reward enough in itself.

89. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (Konami, 1987)

A game which may be the focus of a lot of mockery and ridicule these days for having very loose ties to the source material and some occasionally baffling design, but one must also remember that this was the first video game based on a popular property, and weird or not, your game doesn't sell over four million copies without doing something right.  TMNT was certainly ambitious for its time, combining side-scrolling action segments with top-down, open-world exploration broken up into several stages, and the variety of enemies, sub-weapons and creative stage designs make it well worth a look.  That, plus Konami's consistently high standards for visuals and music, quickly made it into a hit in 1987.  People nowadays mostly talk about the arcade beat-em-ups, but being one of the first games I owned and played quite a lot of (but never actually finished as a kid), this one will always hold a special place in my memories.  And an occasional revisit on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

88. Gremlins 2: The New Batch (Sunsoft, 1990)

Based on the film of the same name, Gremlins 2: The New Batch was handled by Sunsoft, a company that had impeccably high standards in everything they did, even if it was a licensed tie-in.  Gremlins 2 is certainly no exception, basing its levels, enemies and bosses on the film with surprising faithfulness, large sprites and immaculate graphical detail that makes all of them instantly recognizable.  The music is equally good, lending much of the film's frantic and chaotic tone to the game, and the controls, while they take a bit to get used to, are finely polished, letting you platform, evade enemies and throw attacks with ease.  It's not an especially long experience and having level passwords and unlimited continues definitely doesn't make it one of the NES's most challenging games, but I can't complain when the end result is so fun.

87. Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu (Now Production, 1990)

Everybody knows Jackie Chan - he's not only a very talented martial artist, but one of the greatest action stars and stunt-masters in history with over 150 films to his name.  Naturally, there were also a ton of licensed properties surrounding him and even a handful of video games, and this was one of them.  It's not the most creative NES platformer there is - hop across platforms, battle enemies and giant bosses - but what it lacks in originality it certainly makes up for in polish and presentation, with large well-animated sprites, detailed backgrounds, smooth controls and hit detection and some surprisingly good music.  Throughout the game you'll also earn powerups in the form of various martial arts moves to perform, can collect orbs to power up a charged projectile attack, and get the opportunity to earn extra lives and powerups via secret bonus rounds in the form of platforming challenges or smashing statues.  It may not be one that immediately comes to mind when NES platformers are mentioned, but it's one that's well worth playing.

86. Cyber Stadium Series: Base Wars (Konami, 1991)

The NES had perhaps more baseball games than any other genre in its library, and while most of them were decent for the era, the overwhelming majority have not stood the test of time well, lapsing into obscurity not long after their release as sports games tend to do.  Base Wars, however, remains a standout title for putting some clever spins on the formula.  Rather than human players, you form a team of robots (with four varieties - legs, wheels, treads or hovering) and rather than simply being forced out at base, one can engage in hand-to-hand combat to make it there safely; the closer you get to the base, the more health you'll have to spare in the ensuing duel.  It's a bit basic and button-mashy, but the concept is hilarious, and it is also possible to win by playing dirty - beating up the opposing team enough and causing the destruction of three of their players will force them to forfeit the game.  Season mode also adds some clever twists by allowing the player to upgrade their team's weapons and parts to make them better equipped for games.  Pretty fun stuff, and the baseball mechanics themselves are solid too, of course.  It's just a pity the Cyber Stadium Series never produced another game.

85. Wai Wai World 2: SOS!! Parsley Jo (Konami, 1991 in Japan)

Konami was definitely one of the most prevalent and successful names in 8-bit gaming (just see all the other games on this list they've produced), and it got to the point where they weren't just cashing in on licensed properties, but they were even making fun of their own IPs.  Wai Wai World was just that - a mashup of several Konami franchises all in one cartridge, revisiting levels, characters and mechanics of all of them.  Wai Wai World 2 is more in that vein; you go through scrolling shooter stages, platforming stages and even a racing level.  Throughout it all you can collect powerups to transform into a number of Konami heroes - from Simon Belmont to Upa to Goemon to Bill Rizer of Contra fame, each with a different set of abilities to utilize.  It may not be an especially deep experience, but it's a fun and charming action game, and that's what the NES platform (and Konami) really did best.